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Riggs (E-Book)

Riggs (E-Book)

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Known as the team loner, Riggs Nadeau gives his all on the ice, but nothing extra off it. A beautiful stranger is about to cause chaos in his very structured world.

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As a professional hockey player, people think I live a charmed life.  On the surface, I do. But they don’t know the horrors of my childhood, or the real reason that I have custody of my seventeen-year-old sister, Janelle. And that’s exactly the way I like it. They may think I’m a prick because I don’t like to share, but that’s fine. They don’t know me, and they don’t need to.

In an effort to help Janelle get settled in Phoenix and stay out of trouble at school, I set her up with a job at Clarke’s Corner, the local bookstore owned by the girlfriend of a teammate. It’s there that she makes friends with Veronica Woodley, the extremely annoying, arrogant, money-hungry divorcee who I don’t want anywhere near my sister. Janelle insists I’m completely wrong about Veronica, but I refuse to accept that. I have to keep reminding myself that that the gorgeous blond with legs for days is off limits.

Through a series of events, I start to see Veronica for what she really is—an amazing woman who has survived her own hell to come out even stronger. I have to admit, we’re more alike than not and the attraction between us burns hot.

Maybe I was all wrong about my ability to love and commit, but when the past comes back to haunt me, can I be the man that Veronica, and Janelle, deserve?

Read Chapter One

Chapter 1

Riggs

“Think you can paste some type of smile on your face?” I mutter to my sister as we walk around the massive and fantastically decorated mansion where Dominik Carlson is holding his Arizona Vengeance Christmas party.

I don’t want to be here any more than Janelle does, but I’ve been told repeatedly by my teammates, coaches, and other support staff that I need to make more of an effort to be part of this team on a personal level. That means attending annual Christmas parties, and because Dominik likes to lavish the kids with gifts, it means family members must come too. Of course, it was a war getting Janelle to agree.

I’m frustrated with her, and I simply don’t know what to do anymore. Janelle today—my beautiful, smart, once funny and outgoing sister—is not the same girl I knew before she came to live with me almost six months ago. Of course, I can’t say I knew her all that well, given our age difference of eleven years. I’d been gone from the house since I was sixteen and she was five.

But over the years, we kept in contact. At first, it was just phone calls from me to her. As she got bigger, it was letters and more phone calls. When it was age appropriate, I bought her a phone because my mom couldn’t afford to, and it was more calls and texts. There were sporadic visits through my teen years and college, and once I hit the NHL, I took her on a vacation every summer. Not a lot of in-person time together, but years of talking to each other quite a bit.

I felt as close to her as any brother could, given the way we were raised, the circumstances that pulled us apart, and the barriers between us as we tried to forge a relationship.

Almost six months ago, I pulled her out of a dangerous situation with no hesitation on my part, and she wanted to come with me. She was thankful for it, and I could tell she would have suffered greatly had I not swept in to rescue her. But over the months as she’s tried to adjust to living with me—while I adjust to the new team I got traded to—she’s become sullen and withdrawn, sometimes downright bratty. Actually, I’m not sure if bratty is the word to use for a seventeen, almost eighteen-year-old woman who is asserting her independence and dealing with huge upheaval in her life, but emotions are driving her.

Which is why I usually cut her slack and let her win any arguments.

But not tonight. We had an extreme butting of heads over this party. And there’s no doubt we’re related—half siblings—but related all the same. Both of us have tempers and a distinct lack of control over what comes out of our mouths at times. She didn’t want to come. I needed her to because I’m getting pressure to engage more personally. This is a family event, and it would be spotlighted if I showed up without her.

There came a point in the exchange when she said, “I would rather go back and live with Mom. I was much happier.”

I wanted to grab her and throttle her, but ironically—because I’m a defenseman who loves to fight—I can’t stand violence off the ice.

Of course, I’d never lay a hand on the only person in this world who has the biggest chunk of my heart, but it didn’t prevent me from leaning in close and growling, “Now that’s a fucking lie.”

I have no issues dropping the f-bomb in front of my seventeen-year-old sister. We’d grown up in a household where the word fuck was an average part of conversation among the adults in our life.

Unfazed by my curse, Janelle swallowed hard over me calling out her dishonesty. We both know living with our mother and the untenable situation she put Janelle in had my little sister suffering some very dark thoughts. There wasn’t an ounce of happiness in her when I went to get her.

To cut to the chase, I gave her a choice. She could come to the party, or lose her allowance for the next four weeks.

Janelle chose the party, cursing under her breath, but given our upbringing and what she’s been through recently, she can cuss all she wants. She picked out a pretty red dress with black boots. I chose a pair of gray dress slacks and a white dress shirt, but that’s only because I have very little fashion sense and most of my clothes are gray, black, or white.

Janelle and I eventually find our way to a relatively unused space in the main family room and watch the action. Neither of us dare venture forth to join the clusters of people standing around eating fancy canapés and sipping champagne. It’s painful to be part of this team yet not be a part at all.

The thing that sucks, at least for me, is this is not how I’ve always been. When I played for the San Diego Renegades, I enjoyed a close camaraderie with my teammates. I had closer bonds with my line and it was tough leaving to come to Arizona, but I was never going to pass up the opportunity to play on a team that has a stellar chance of winning the Cup again.

Unfortunately, bringing Janelle into my home coincided with the trade to the Arizona Vengeance, and I had no choice but to withdraw from the social norms associated with being a member of a professional hockey team.

It has been tough all around. Janelle was uprooted to live with a brother she knew but didn’t really know. She left her mother—our mother—who she loved, but Mom couldn’t protect her. And this all happened after I moved to a new city and was trying to integrate into a new team.

We were both out of our element, and frankly, it was easier to keep to ourselves until we found our footing. I feel like I’m starting to settle in with the team, but Janelle can still be cagey at times.

On top of all that, I had no clue how to raise a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. I was winging it, as our situation is unique. It would invite questions, but our business is ours alone. I didn’t want to have to answer questions. I didn’t want to have to tell my teammates to fuck off and stop being nosy. So it’s just easier to keep myself in this reclusive state to discourage people wanting to know more about me.

And yet… here we are at the Vengeance Christmas party, and I can’t wait for it to be over.

“I see Lucy over there,” Janelle says, her tone actually light and not sullen. “Do you care if I go hang with her?”

“No,” I say, a bit relieved. I don’t feel like reminding her to smile every five minutes when she’s standing next to me. “Knock yourself out.”

I get a half smile from Janelle, but it fades as quickly as I saw it. She turns away but then something strikes me.

“Hey,” I call, and she glances back. “What exactly do you tell your friends about why you’re living with me now?”

She shrugs. “I don’t have any friends.”

That can’t be true. I know she’s got some friends of the unsavory type at school, according to a teacher who reached out to me.

And Janelle knows Lucy.

But I get what she’s saying. She doesn’t know anyone well enough for them to be interested in her background.

“Out of curiosity,” I press, ignoring the no-friends comment. “What would you say if someone asked you?”

She tips her head and smirks. “What do you say?”

“No one’s asked me either,” I reply.

“There you go.” Her smirk transforms into a full smile. “Neither of us has friends.”

I can’t argue with that, and she knows it. She pivots and melts off into the crowd to hang with Lucy, who is Jim and Ella’s daughter. She’s in a crowd of other kids, but I don’t recognize any of them. Not surprising since I don’t go to functions.

Now that Janelle has left me, I look like a dumbass standing here all alone in a corner. My eyes scan the room, which is packed with people. Not only is the team invited to this annual party with all of their accompanying family members, but every single person who works for the Vengeance corporation and their families too. That’s a lot of damn people to ply with expensive food and drink as well as presents for the kids, but Dominik Carlson is worth billions. He can afford to be merrier than most.

I look around for a familiar face, hopefully one of my linemates who I can at least make some measure of small talk with at best, or at worst, I can stand in their group silently and they won’t expect much more of me than that.

My eyes happen to skim over and then stop on a man who I recognize as one of the assistant equipment personnel—I believe his name is John—and standing with him is a very pretty woman.

His sister.

I don’t know her name, although he’s told me on more than one occasion. He’s stopped me in the locker room, telling me what a big fan his sister is, and has intimated that it would be oh so cool if I took her out on a date.

He assured me she was sweet, funny, and beautiful. I don’t know about the sweet and funny parts, but he did not lie about the beautiful.

Fuck… he’s waving me over now that I’ve made eye contact. His sister is beaming.

I have no desire to talk to him or to fend off his insinuations right in front of her that we should go out. The guy is obnoxious enough to do that, and I’ll hurt her feelings by turning her down. Because while I’m sure she’s as lovely on the inside as she is on the outside, I have absolutely no fucking desire to date. I don’t have the time or energy—I devote every bit of what I do have to Janelle.

To be honest, even if Janelle weren’t here, I’d still have no interest. I’ve seen how toxic relationships can be. I’ve seen the absolute worst, and I don’t want any part of it. I’m not the type of man who would ever hope for better, because I’ve never seen any evidence that better exists.

Grudgingly, I will admit that some of the guys on this team seem happy with the women in their lives. Good for them.

It probably won’t last.

John waves again, and I start to panic, but someone taps me on the shoulder, and I turn to see Jim and his wife, Ella, standing there.

Thank fuck.

Jim Steele is one of my line mates, and Ella seems pretty cool. It’s their daughter Lucy who Janelle is with right now. Granted, Lucy is four years younger than Janelle, but they seemed to get along very well when they met at the Fan Day carnival last month. It was the only other time Janelle accompanied me to a team event.

“I see you lost your date,” Ella says with a bright smile, nodding over to the kids.

I return her smile, although most of my smiles are forced these days. “Yeah… not cool to hang out with your brother at these parties, apparently.”

Jim slaps me on the shoulder and teases, “You could have brought a real date. I could hook you up if you’re interested.”

I grimace. “Definitely not interested. Got my hands full raising a sister.”

I wince internally over the tone of my last words because it makes it sound like Janelle is a burden, and she most definitely is not. But there are frustrations as we learn to live together—and a ton of guilt on my part that I didn’t take her away sooner.

Ella is perceptive, and she picks up on it before I can say anything that might have blown off my tone.

Her expression becomes sympathetic. “Teenagers can be tough.”

And I cannot stop myself from saying, “I’m not even sure tough is the right word to describe it. More like a headache that comes and goes, making me want to bang my skull against a wall, which might actually feel better.”

Jim hoots with laughter. Ella swats at him, her face wise and understanding.

She asks a question that puts her in territory no one has dared to go before with me. “Has she been with you long?”

I’m not about to give details, but I manage to explain, “She came after I moved to Arizona—late July. She’s having a bit of a hard time adjusting.”

Ella is all class. She nods and doesn’t ask a follow-up question about our circumstances, for which I’m eternally grateful.

Instead, she moves back to the terrors of raising a teenager. “What type of teenager things is she exhibiting?” Ella inquires. “Being secretive? Talking disrespectfully? Sullen and withdrawn?”

“All of the above,” I mutter woefully. “And about five other things.”

Ellen nods sagely, as does Jim, who announces, “Congratulations… you definitely have a teenage girl in your home.”

A surge of relief runs through me. I’ve been validated that Janelle is behaving like a normal teenager should, and it means perhaps there’s hope for me to figure out how to make things better for her.

The surge apparently makes me a blathering idiot, and I start to unload. “Janelle is in a tough position. She’s not made any real friends, and the ones who she wants to be friends with are exactly the type I don’t want her near. I’m having a hard time keeping my finger on the pulse of things because we travel half the season. The woman I hired to watch her is very strict, and Janelle isn’t reacting well to that after she was given way too much freedom under my mother’s watch. I have no answers, and Janelle is so withdrawn, I don’t even know how to figure out what the appropriate questions are. One minute she seems perfectly happy, and the next I feel like she hates me. It’s very confusing.”

Ella crosses her arms and tips her head as if completely invested in the conversation. “What exactly does she say when you ask her about it?”

I blink, then again, as if I don’t quite understand the question.

When I blink a third time, a crushing wave of embarrassment sweeps through me as I admit, “I haven’t asked her. She’s not the easiest to talk to.”

It’s at this moment that I realize without having to be told, I suck as a parent.

Both Ella and Jim have matching frowns, and for the first time, Jim chimes in. “You haven’t talked to her about her attitude or what’s bothering her?”

I shrug helplessly. Clearly, I’ve done it all wrong.

“You need to sit down and talk to her, Riggs,” Ella says gently. Maybe gentler than I need, but she’s trying to soften the blow that I might be a dumbass. “She may not tell you anything, but you’ve got to ask. And if she doesn’t tell you anything, you have to ask again and again and again.”

I nod at her, feeling like a fool. “Understood,” I mumble.

Ella puts her hand on my arm and squeezes. “Remember, she’s a teenager, so communication is hard. You’ve got to keep chipping away at it and things will get better. But also remember, some of this is out of your hands because sometimes there’s no understanding them at all.”

A rush of fondness for Ella sweeps through me… for being empathetic to my lack of parenting experience as well as giving it to me honestly. I don’t do well with people sugarcoating things.

I even appreciate her poking into my business.

Somewhat.

“Do you have her in any extracurricular activities?” Ella asks. “Sometimes a busy kid makes for a happier kid.”

I shake my head. “She doesn’t have interest in anything but art, which is a pretty solitary activity. She refuses to try out for athletics or anything else the school offers, and I don’t know whether to push her into it. I don’t want to make her do something she’s not into, but I do think she might be bored. Like I said, I hired an older woman through a service to watch her when I’m away, but Janelle doesn’t have much in common with her, and she’s not motherly. More like a strict babysitter.”

Jim snorts, and I ask him what’s so funny. “You need to talk to Reagan,” he says with a knowing smile.

“Reagan? Dax’s wife?”

Jim nods. “Her brother played for the New York Vipers, and when their parents died, she went to live with him. She’s had to navigate what Janelle’s going through, so she would have great advice.”

I seriously doubt she’s gone through what Janelle’s gone through, I think to myself. But I do appreciate the heads-up that Reagan has some experience. I’ll reach out to her through Dax.

Ella’s face brightens and she says, “I have an idea. You said Janelle might be bored. Well, Clarke has been looking for someone to work part-time in the afternoons at her bookstore. Maybe Janelle would be interested in that—it would give her something to do, plus it would help her connect with people associated with the team and give her a bit of a break from her babysitter when you’re gone, since they don’t connect all that well.”

I knew Aaron’s girlfriend owned a bookstore downtown, and I’d even told myself I should take Janelle to check it out since it’s not far from where we live. I just haven’t had an opportunity, nor has Janelle seemed to want to do anything I’ve suggested. But my sister does love English class and enjoys reading the classics she’s assigned. She’s also no stranger to work, having held some type of job since she was fourteen. One thing my little sister understands is the value of a solid work ethic.

Before I can agree that this idea has merit, Ella has me by the wrist and is pulling me through the crowd. I look over my shoulder and see Jim following, shaking his head in silent amusement because his wife, though diminutive, is a powerhouse.

I have no choice but to go along with her. She leads me over to Aaron and his girlfriend, Clarke, who are in conversation with Kane and his fiancée, Mollie. As we approach, I hear Kane prattling on about wedding-cake tasting while Mollie nods with interest. It’s been a running joke that Kane has lost his man card because since his engagement, he’s been fully involved with every aspect of wedding planning. Everyone—except me, since that opens me up for people to joke back—are giving him hell because frankly, he acts like a girl.

But part of me admires the dude because he doesn’t give a shit what everybody else thinks about him, and that kind of confidence is fucking special in my book. The guy is just so excited to spend his life with Mollie that he seems to want to soak in every aspect of this experience. More power to him.

Speaking strictly from a male point of view, I don’t understand what all the fuss is about monogamy and marriage and lifelong commitment. Like I said, it all breaks down and goes to hell, eventually. As long as there is a never-ending supply of women willing to throw themselves into my bed, with the understanding that’s all it will ever be, I don’t see what more I need in life.

“Clarke,” Ella exclaims, butting in over the wedding talk as we enter the tiny group’s circumference, which automatically expands to let us in. “Are you still looking for someone to work in the afternoons at the bookstore?”

“I am,” she replies, turning to Ella. “My right-hand woman has decided to go back to school to finish her degree, so I’m going to need some help.”

“Oh, really?” Ella exclaims in surprise. “Where is Veronica going to finish her degree?”

The ladies launch into chatter about someone named Veronica, and I immediately tune out. I look around for Janelle, spot her still in place with the other kids, but she’s not talking to anyone. Merely listening.

Like me.

“It would be maybe two to three hours a day, Riggs.”

“Huh?” I give my attention to Clarke who just said something, but I didn’t catch all of it.

Clarke nods to Ella. “She said your sister might be interested in working at the bookstore after school?”

“Um, yeah,” I reply, although I have no clue if this is a good idea. “I mean… I have to see if she’s interested, of course.”

“Sure,” she says brightly. “Let me know, and we can get her going as soon as she wants. Over the holidays, even.”

I nod, but no one is paying attention to me as Kane says, “So the three flavors of cake we’ve narrowed in on—”

Uninterested in cake flavors, I look around to figure out my escape. Jim claps me on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go find some beer and testosterone-driven conversation.”

No helping my laugh and my gratitude. While I respect the fuck out of Kane as a teammate and am grudgingly happy for his newfound love, I can’t hear another second about the wedding.

Jim and I step away, but Aaron looks panicked that we’re leaving him behind. Unfortunately, Clarke has her arm firmly locked in his as she listens to Kane talk about cake. I snicker, and Jim and I move toward the bar.

“Oh. My. God.” The voice is terrified and out of control—loud enough to be heard above the crowd and Christmas music playing in the background—and we spin in that direction. “Someone call an ambulance.”

That’s Erik’s voice.

Jim and I, along with throngs of people, move toward the source of his urgent declaration. We push through the crowd along with several other Vengeance players—because we’re big and can hip check the fuck out of someone if need be—to find Erik standing with Blue. Erik looks pale, like he’s going to pass out.

Blue is holding her hand under her very large belly, bent slightly forward as if she’s uncomfortable, one hand on Erik’s arm. She looks totally calm in opposition to her husband’s alarmed expression, and I’m not sure if she’s steadying him or what—but she gives him an exasperated look.

“I don’t need an ambulance,” she snaps irritably. “Just a calm, rational person to drive me to the hospital. I’m in labor.”

Everyone around issues exclamations of joy and congratulations that Blue appears to be in labor. Erik looks like he’s going to puke, and there’s no way he’ll get her to the hospital safely. Jett moves to his side and urgently chants, “Breathe… just breathe, Erik. Deep breath in, long one out.”

Blue rolls her eyes at Jett, but Erik starts deep breathing, which frankly can’t hurt.

Someone jostles my arm, and I look down to see Janelle poking her head past me. “What’s going on?”

“Blue’s in labor. Erik’s freaking out.”

Janelle’s expression doesn’t change. No joy. No amusement. No interest.

I make a command decision, stepping out of the crowd and pulling my car keys from my pocket. “Come on,” I say to Blue, with a side glance at Erik. “I’ll drive you both, and Erik can sit in the back seat with you.”

This is code for “Erik is too discombobulated to drive,” and if anyone is looking for deeper meaning, they’d notice an “I’m done with the Christmas party and want to leave” sentiment and even a little deeper, “Maybe Janelle will snap out of her funk.”

I look over my shoulder at my sister. “Come on. We’re on a mission.”

She blinks in surprise because she knows I don’t put myself out there with the team.

It’s the first genuine expression I’ve seen all night.

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Product Release Date: October 26, 2021

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