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Hendrix (E-Book)

Hendrix (E-Book)

A pool wager between him and the bar owner leads to so much more in this hockey romance

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Hendrix Bateman is one of The Lucky Three, a trio of players who were not on the Titan’s team plane the night it crashed. Feeling as if he’s been given a second chance, Hendrix is determined to make the most out of his life, but that doesn’t mean he’s not suffering from scars that can’t be seen.

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When I lost my Titan brothers in the crash, it was a mixed bag of emotions. I was devastated and grief stricken, but I was also grateful to be alive. Yeah, that might cause a little—okay, a lot of—guilt, but now I’m determined to live each day as if it’s my last.

A night out with friends puts me in the crosshairs of Stevie Kisner—the devastatingly beautiful bar owner with a sharp tongue and a fire in her eyes that lets me know she has zero tolerance for guys like me. I’ve never been one to back away from a challenge, so I’m not dissuaded by Stevie’s tough as nails attitude or her big biker dad who looks like he wants to kill me. Fueled by too many shots and the raucous urging of my teammates, I set out to show Stevie I’ve got game both on and off the ice.

While I shouldn’t be looking for anything more than a good time, I can’t help but be captivated by Stevie. She’s cool as hell and we burn hot together. But the more I get to know her, the more I can tell she’s holding something in reserve, and let’s just say I’ve got some trust issues after my last disastrous attempt at a relationship. Now I need to decide if I’m going to let my past dictate my future or if I am willing to put my heart on the line to find out if Stevie is exactly what I think she is—my everything.

Read Chapter One

Stevie

I heft a case of Michelob from the floor to the top of the back bar in one fell swoop. I might be on the small side, but I’m strong.

I’m also stubborn and prideful and don’t know how to ask for help even though there’s at least one burly man in the shop next door I could ask to do this for me.

But why should I? This is my pub and I’m responsible for everything that goes into running it. So if my opening bartender is running late this morning, I’m not above moving some cases of beer from the stockroom.

After that, there’s not a lot that goes in to opening this place. We don’t open until eleven a.m. so I set up the register, filling the till with enough ones, fives, tens, twenties, and rolls of coins to make change until the evening switchover. I note the amounts on my balance form and the day bartender will update it before shift change.

After that, I pull all the stools off the main bar where they’re put each night when the floors are mopped, walk around to turn on the neon signs hanging along the walls and then I’m ready for business.

Terry will be here any minute and I’ll leave it up to her to unlock the front doors to let in the trickle of early patrons. I don’t serve a lot in the way of food. It’s basically frozen pizzas I can cook in a toaster oven, chips, beef jerky, and pickled eggs my dad makes every week. I sell those for seventy-five cents apiece and they’re not worth the time or effort, but it’s tradition. My grandfather started it back in 1979 when he opened this place and while my dad never had any ownership interest, he was and still is involved in its success, so he makes the pickled eggs.

Most of the people who come into Jerry’s Lounge—named after my grandpap—come in for the beer and liquor. My day patrons are a mix of old retirees from back in Grandpap’s day and bikers who ride with my dad. At night, the old guys wobble out and more bikers come in, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my customers just the way they are.

With nothing left to do until we open, I head next door to my dad’s tattoo shop. While he grew up in this place under his father’s eye, he had no desire to sling beer for a living. He instead went into the army, wanting to travel the world. As happens, plans didn’t work out for him because I came along and being in the military is a hard thing to handle as a single dad.

Instead, he developed a new passion enabled by insane natural artistic talent and opened his tattoo shop—Hard Ink—right next door to Jerry’s Lounge. The landlord even let us connect the two spaces via a doorway so we could freely move back and forth to help each other out. If Jerry’s is slow and my bartender has things covered, I might pop over to my dad’s and help check customers in or clean up. My dad does the same for me.

The adjoining door from my stockroom leads right into his break room. During business hours we keep the door unlocked and since it’s my first pass through of the day, I pull my keys out to open the dead bolt.

I find my dad sitting at the table, one large hand wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee. He’s chatting with two of his artists.

Roy is a linebacker of a dude who rides with my dad’s motorcycle club and has been doing ink with him for the last four years. Sienna, who started working here a few weeks ago, is quite the talented artist, but she’s also a vapid skank. It’s evident in the way she dresses—today, it’s a bustier that’s barely holding in her breasts and fake-leather skinny pants that sit so low on her hips I can see the top of her ass crack as she pours a cup of coffee. She moves to the table, sitting next to my dad, and angles his way. Crossing one leg over the other, she leans toward him—boobs just about to pop free—trying to catch his eye.

Eww… gross. While my dad is by no means old—he’s forty-eight and looks far younger—Sienna is only twenty-five, same as me, and it skeeves me out the way she flirts with him in a hypersexualized way.

Although, in fairness to my dad, he’s not interested. I know this from his demeanor as he ignores Sienna and listens to Roy talking.

Not to say John “Bear” Kisner’s bed is empty, but he prefers his women a little more mature. Not to say he hasn’t dated younger women, but he likes them confident and with the ability to carry on meaningful, deep conversations. My dad might be a Harley-riding, tattooed, gun-wielding beast of a man, but he’s got a lot going on upstairs.

His eyes light up when I walk through the door. “There’s my Carrots.”

“Good morning, Peas,” I say affectionately as I bend to kiss his bearded cheek. When I was thirteen, he introduced me to the movie Forrest Gump. As I sobbed on his shoulder at the end I asked him, in between hiccups, if we could be called Peas and Carrots the way Forrest and Jenny were to each other.

He said, of course.

I share the same grayish-blue eyes and dark—almost raven-black—hair as my father, but his is turning silver on his face and at his temples. While his beard is kept somewhat trimmed, his hair is long and loose, hanging just past his shoulders. My dad’s still in excellent shape, his bulging muscles covered in ink, and I know I shouldn’t blame Sienna for being attracted to him, but just… gross.

“Hey, Stevie,” Roy says to me with a chin lift. His eyes are somewhat yearning—he’s wanted to go out on a date with me forever—but I’m just not into him. He’s hot—all muscled and tatted the way I like them—as that’s pretty much what I was raised around. He’s such a good guy, but there’s not a spark and I can’t explain it.

I keep it affectionate but friendly by lifting my fist to his to tap. “What’s up?”

My eyes cut to Sienna and because she knows my dad’s watching, she attempts to be nice by bestowing a bright smile my way. “Hi, Stevie.”

“You have spinach in your teeth,” I deadpan, and thank someone upstairs for providing me that little green piece of embarrassment to point out.

Sienna claps her hand over her mouth while gasping, “Shit.” She pushes out of her chair and clacks away on her spiky heels toward the bathroom down the hall.
Roy snickers as he stands. “I’m going to get my station ready.”

“See ya,” I say as I move to the coffee pot and pour myself a cup. I notice my dad’s is almost empty, so I refresh it.

When I sit opposite him, he gives me a chastising dip of his head. “Be nice.”

“I was being nice. I pointed out she had something in her teeth and saved her hours of potential embarrassment down the road.”

My dad chuckles, lifts his cup for a sip. When he lowers it, he asks, “What’s on your agenda today?”

“The usual. Harlow’s coming by soon to go over final plans for the toy drive. I’ve got the plumber coming to look at that leaky faucet in the men’s bathroom, and—”
“I can handle the faucet,” my dad says.

I ignore him because it’s my responsibility. “I’m going to meet Mom for lunch and then make a grocery store stop after, so let me know if you want me to pick up anything for you.”

“Your mom, huh?” His voice is deep, gruff and disapproving. I had hoped I’d glossed over that piece of information enough that it was lost, but not much gets by Bear Kisner.

“Yeah.” I keep my tone light, as if it’s not a big deal. “She texted last night.”

“No doubt because she needs something from you,” my dad mutters.

Sounds like harsh judgment, but he’s got legitimate reason. My mom sits at the very bottom of my dad’s list of people he respects and it’s a position rightly earned. He’s never forgiven her for abandoning me when I was only two years old. He doesn’t give a fuck that she left him, only that she left me and didn’t look back for the longest time. I’d probably go so far as to say he hates her for it because he had a very heartbroken kid who didn’t understand why her mom didn’t love or want her.

My father is amazing, and I wouldn’t change a thing about how he raised me all alone, luckily with the help of his parents. He did a far better job than my mom ever could have and it’s why we’re so close.

Peas and Carrots.

But I’ve reconnected with her somewhat and while we don’t have a parent-child relationship, I do spend time with her.

I don’t say anything more about her and Dad doesn’t give me any further warnings. Since my mom has reappeared in my life over the last few months he’s let me know to be careful with my heart around her, but otherwise he pretty much stays out of it. He’s one of those dads who isn’t afraid to let his kid fail, so I make sure to learn the lesson well.

I glance at my watch. “Got to go. Stop by if you want to see Harlow.”

He rises from the table to tower over me. “I’ve got a customer coming in, so just give her a hug for me.”

“Will do.”

I start to turn away, but his hand comes to my jaw and he bends down to lock eyes with mine. “You have whatever relationship you want with your mother, Stevie… but mark my words… if she hurts you, I’ll ruin her without hesitation.”

“I know,” I murmur, bringing my hand up to cover his and lean into his touch. My dad is a good man, but he would kill for me and that’s no joke. “I love you.”

“Love you too.”

When I return to the bar, Terry’s behind it rearranging beer in the cooler and Harlow is sitting with a bottle of water in front of her, surfing on her phone.

She’s as stunning as ever, her vivid red hair spilling down her back. Her head turns my way, those green eyes brightening. “Over visiting your pops?” she asks.

“Yeah. He said to give you a hug, so I better do it before I forget.”

I take the stool next to hers and lean over for a quick embrace. Harlow Alston and I have been friends since our freshman year when some redistricting landed me in a new school where I didn’t know anyone. It was smack in the middle of a wealthy Pittsburgh suburb and I stuck out like a sore thumb. Harlow took me under her wing on my very first day and we’ve been close ever since. While our paths diverged slightly after school—I started working in my grandpap’s bar because the thought of college made me break out in hives and she went on to law school—our bond has remained tight.

My dad adores her and she’s spent many a night at our modest house for sleepovers, and her parents have always welcomed me with open arms into their affluent life. In a way, we’re like peas and carrots too.

“Good Thanksgiving?” she asks. While we usually talk at least once a week and text more frequently, we haven’t spoken since before the holiday three days ago.

“Just me and Dad, but it was good. You?”

“Stone and I ate at my parents’. It’s nice having a boyfriend for the holidays, so I think I’ll keep him.” Harlow reaches into her tote and pulls out a folder, handing it to me. “I can’t stay long as I have a hearing downtown, but here are the flyers and an outline of the basic game plan.”

I flip through the documents, my lips curving into a grateful smile. “This is amazing. Thank you. You really didn’t have to do all this, but—”

She punches me in the arm, hard enough that I yelp. “Are you kidding? This is a really good cause, and we’re all excited to do it.”

By all, she means some members of the Pittsburgh Titans hockey team. She and her boyfriend, Stone Dumelin, who’s a first-line left-winger, are doing a charity toy drive the day after tomorrow to distribute throughout Allegheny County’s homeless shelters. My grandpap did a small toy drive every year and it’s become an important Christmas tradition for me and my dad. We manage to collect a decent box of goodies each year, but Harlow suggested combining the Titans’ star power to help increase donations.

This idea came about a few weeks ago when she and Stone stopped by to hang for a bit with me. Of course, I think the real reason Harlow suggested it was because they could see that business wasn’t all that great. There were more empty tables and stools than filled, and she thought having the Titans come in for a celebrity appearance to get donations would bring in a lot of new customers and help drive business.

It was a sweet offer and one I wasn’t going to refuse. But I’m well aware she’s doing this as much for me as she is for the needy kids in our area.

She nods to the folder. “I’ve got two players committed including Stone, but I’ll probably have a few more. Cover charge is one unwrapped toy and we’ll set up a photo station and charge for pictures with the players. The money collected will go to a charity of your choice.”

“And they really don’t mind doing this?” I ask in awe.
Harlow laughs. “They not only don’t mind, they love getting involved in the community. I think it’s their way of giving back to a city that’s shown so much love and support since the crash.”

Leaning over, I nudge her shoulder with mine, leveling her with a devilish grin. “I still can’t believe you’re dating a famous hockey player.”

Her eyes glitter as she nudges me right back. “Say the word. I could name five single guys right now who would kill to go out with you.”

I scoff at the notion. “Yeah, right. As if they’d ever want to go out with a bartender.”

“Don’t,” Harlow says, and it’s the same tone she used on me back in high school if I ever got down on myself. “Don’t ever define yourself by what you do for a living. And for the record, you’re not a bartender. You’re a businesswoman who owns a retail establishment.”

I try to mollify her without letting go of my realistic expectations when it comes to my love life. “I’m just saying… I’m so busy here most of my time is tied to this business. It doesn’t make dating or relationships easy.”
“Well, if you want to be with someone, you make the time. But mark my words… when we come in for the charity event, I bet every one of the single guys hits on you and tries to get your number.”

“It’s good that I’m not afraid of the word no, then, right?”
Harlow rolls her eyes and swivels off the stool. “You’re hopeless, but I love you anyway.”

“Ditto,” I say as I hop off and we hug goodbye.

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Product Release Date: May 30, 2023

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