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Wylde (E-Book)

Wylde (E-Book)

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There’s a reason they call me Wylde and it’s not just because it’s my last name.

I might be one of the newest players on the Arizona Vengeance team, but I’m no stranger to the celebrity that goes along with being a professional hockey player. Whether it’s a fan seeking an autograph or a puck bunny looking for more, I’ve grown used to the attention. I not only thrive on it; I use it to my advantage. Let’s just say my bed is rarely empty.

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When a quirky redhead at the local bookstore stops me dead in my tracks, I decide to pop in and turn on the trusty Wylde magic. As smart and strong-willed as she is beautiful, Clarke Webber isn’t swayed by my witty banter or charming good looks. And when she realizes who I am and the fame that comes along with it, she likes me even less. Thankfully, I’m always up for a challenge. The more I get to know about her, the more I know my playboy days are behind me.

If I’m going to capture Clarke’s heart, it’s time to be a lot less Wylde, and a lot more Aaron.

Read Chapter One

Chapter 1

Wylde

I love living in downtown Phoenix. My condo is on the fringe of the social scene, which is filled with trendy cafes, fine dining, and upscale shopping. At night, I merely have to step out of my building and walk one block west to be in the thick of it all. Five blocks south, and I’m at the arena where the Vengeance plays. My truck mostly stays parked in the underground garage unless I need to use it to drive to the airport for away games, but I’ll often just Uber it.

I’ve always preferred city living, and I lived in downtown Dallas when I played hockey for the Mustangs before being traded to the Arizona Vengeance. It’s a single man’s playground, the city life, and I wouldn’t trade it for one of those houses in the burbs that a lot of my teammates choose as their choice destination for fine living.

I ignore the elevator on the fourth floor of my building, choosing to take the stairs instead. For fuck’s sake, I’m a professional athlete… I should be able to handle four flights of stairs coming and going.

When I step out into the June morning, it still takes me a moment to get past the startling dry heat. It seems like I’d be used to it since I’ve lived the last several years in the southwest between Dallas and Phoenix, but this New Englander still has a tough time living without humidity.

Regardless, today is the day I’d chosen to get back into the swing of things with my workouts and I can’t let a little fire in the lungs before I even start my run stop me.

It was just ten days ago that my team, the Arizona Vengeance, won the Cup championship over the defending champions, the Carolina Cold Fury. It’s been ten days of being lazy, eating bad food, and drinking lots of beer. I’ve been going out with my single buds on the team almost every night, getting drunk and heading home with a different puck bunny.

But fuck, I can only take so much of that type of hedonism. Like I said, I’m a professional athlete and with that comes a certain way of living.

For my entire hockey-playing life—starting before I was a teen—I’d taken my training seriously. I’d been told by coaches early on I had raw talent, but part of developing that was in conditioning my body. That meant good nutrition, workouts, and maintaining a winning attitude at all times, even in the off-season.

That’s where we are now… the glorious off-season of summer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to work.

Starting today, it’s back on. Training camp is only three short months away, and the pressure for us to perform at the same or better standards is immense. On top of that, my contract expires at the end of next season, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to operate at anything less than one hundred percent.

So today, I start back running and I usually average at least twenty miles a week, broken into four or five morning runs.

Many of my defense peers aren’t into running, focusing instead on strength training and muscle endurance. Those are important, too, but I’ve always loved running for some reason. I’m easily able to let my head go into a subspace, and it’s quite meditative for me. On top of that, it burns a lot of calories. It means I can eat more, which is a bonus given how much I love food.

I take a moment on the sidewalk to do some dynamic stretching—heel-to-toe stretches, hamstring curls, and leg kicks. I do two sets, walking up and down my condo’s block, oblivious to the people who do double-takes when they recognize me.

For the most part, that doesn’t happen. Yes, I’m a well-known player for the Arizona Vengeance, a first-line defenseman, but the entire city isn’t into hockey. More often than not, I’m able to go places without being recognized, but that’s also dependent on where I go. Sports bars, I’m bound to get approached for autographs. The grocery store, less likely, particularly since I like to go early on Sunday mornings when it’s practically dead.

Legs fully stretched, I start off in a slow jog heading east and after the first quarter-mile, I pick up the pace. My earbuds are cranked, and DJ Khalil elevates me to run faster.

My mind wanders, trying to figure out my summer. I haven’t given it a lot of thought as I’m more of an impulsive, do-things-when-I-feel-like-it kind of guy. I know I should plan a trip home to New Hampshire to see my mom, but the thought of it starts to depress and demotivate me, so I put it out of my head. We don’t have the best relationship and any trips home are made from a sense of obligation, not because I actually get joy from our reunions.

That may seem harsh, but she’d say the same damn thing.

Normally, I’d plan a vacation on a sunny beach somewhere but in a few weeks, I’ll be headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands to attend Brooke and Bishop’s wedding. The entire team is going for a week to participate in a continued celebration of the Cup win in addition to their nuptials. It’s going to be just one long party, and I’m looking forward to it.

Maybe I could head to Wyoming for a few days of fishing, something I got into over the last few years and really enjoy.

Or maybe I should go bum around Europe for a bit. I have several teammates who would be up for just such an adventure.

Regardless, anything I decide will have to wait until after Bishop and Brooke’s wedding during the first week of July because my weekends are already accounted for until then.

Up ahead, I see they’re doing some sidewalk construction on my normal route. At the next light, I decide to turn left, jogging in place while I wait for the light to change. As other mid-morning strollers casually jaunt over the crosswalk, I take off running again. Rush hour is over and most people are at their places of work, but I still have to weave in and out of other pedestrians.

This is a street I haven’t been on. I pass a coffee shop, a small drugstore, and what looks like a bookshop.

I glance in the window of the latter, my gaze landing on an incredibly gorgeous woman behind the cash register. It’s really just a glimpse as I run by, but her auburn-colored hair gathered in a messy bun on top of her head and the most stunning pair of eyes shining from under a pair of rectangular, black-framed glasses catch my attention.

Now, glasses aren’t normally my thing on a woman, but, in this instance, they work. I can’t tell if her eyes are green or blue, but they’re light-colored, in stark contrast against her fiery hair with tendrils escaping her updo and framing her pretty face.

And just as quickly as I spot her, she’s gone because I’m past the bookstore and reaching the end of the block.

To return to my route, I should cut right and head uptown, but I can’t shake that tiny glimpse of gorgeousness I just witnessed, so I decide to take another peek at the woman. I kick up my pace. Rather than turn around and go back, I decide to circle the block to get my paces in.

When I reach the bookstore and slow my pace to get a better look at the woman, disappointment sets in because she’s no longer behind the register. I can’t spot her anywhere. Granted, there’s a lot going on inside the shop. It’s more than just a bookstore as in addition to rows of books, there are tables and free-standing shelves that host a variety of knickknacks for sale. It looks cozy, interesting, and crowded at the same time, but there’s no beautiful redhead.

And once again, the bookstore is behind me—the opportunity she represented now firmly in my rearview mirror.

I get to the end of the block, determined to turn right and get back on route. For some reason, though, I don’t enter the crosswalk when the light turns green. Jogging in place, I peek over my shoulder at the bookstore, weighing my options.

“Fuck it,” I mutter, pivoting and heading back that way.

Slowing to a walk a good ten yards from the door, I take deep breaths to get my heart rate into a normal range and cut the sound from my iPhone strapped onto my bicep. My breathing evens out quickly because, despite the ten days of gluttony and debauchery, I’m still in great shape. I reach an arm up, wipe my sweaty brow on my sleeve, and take one last deep breath.

Pushing open the door to the bookstore, I note the name painted in gold letters—Clarke’s Corner. A tinkling bell announces my arrival, and a husky voice calls out from somewhere behind the bookshelves.

“Be there in a moment.”

“Take your time,” I reply loud enough to carry, then proceed to browse around.

It’s an incredibly cute place. All the furniture, including the four long rows of bookshelves that are jam-packed with paperbacks and hardcover editions, are painted in a glossy white. The walls are done in a pale blue, covered with paintings by what look to be local artists. They must be commissioned for sale, because they have price tags. Tables are loaded with trinkets such as bookends, candlesticks, tiny lamps, gilded frames, and other objects used for decoration.

“Hi.” That same voice hits my ears, but much closer, and I turn to find the beautiful woman I saw earlier there.

Without being too obvious, I take more of her in. She’s wearing faded, worn jeans along with a pair of pink sandals. A gauzy, loose shirt of mint green hangs off one shoulder with a white tank underneath.

Her eyes are green, maybe hazel, and now that I have a moment to observe, her glasses are actually tortoiseshell with gold trim around the edges. Surreptitiously, I note she isn’t wearing a wedding ring. Actually, her hands are bare of any jewelry. Small gold studs wink in her ears behind the wisps of hair framing her face, which is classically beautiful without a single speck of makeup. Not even mascara or eyeshadow.

Just fresh, clean skin and clear eyes staring at me.

“Welcome to Clarke’s Corner,” she says brightly. “Can I help you find something?”

“Um…” I say, drawing an absolute blank. I can’t very well say, No, thank you… I came in here to hit on you because I found you absolutely beautiful as I was running by.

I mean, I could say that.

And I have done that on occasion when I met a woman I was immensely attracted to. I’m no slouch in the looks department, so I’ve never found beating around the bush to be all that satisfying. More of the type of guy who goes for what he wants.

Then, it hits me. I throw a thumb over my shoulder toward the interior of the store. “Actually, I was walking by—”

“Kind of sweaty to just be walking by,” she observes. “Are you sure you’re okay? Do you need to sit down or anything?”

Sharp girl. And also one for honesty, it seems.

I grin, popping my panty-dropping dimples, holding my hands up in mock surrender. “Okay… got me. I was out running, and I’d never been this way before. When I saw this store, I remembered I have a wedding to go to this weekend and I haven’t bought a present yet.”

Total lie.

Well, sort of.

There is indeed a wedding. Erik, one of my teammates, is getting married to his fiancée, Blue, but I have already bought them a gift. I have no problem buying a second one, though.

“Did you have anything in mind, or would you like some suggestions?”

“I’ll take suggestions,” I say, leveling her with a sheepish but hopefully charming smile. “Not the best shopper.”

The woman moves over to a wall unit that houses a few interesting pieces of pottery, then chooses a vase the color of burnt cinnamon with dark yellow swirling through it. “How about something like this?”

Taking it from her, I pretend to study it thoughtfully before I shake my head. “I don’t think this is to their taste.”

In truth, it very well could be. I’m not good at stuff like this, but if I accept the first thing she shows me, then the conversation is over and I’ll have to leave.

She next shows me a pair of brass candlesticks. “Too formal,” I say.

A porcelain picture frame. “Too feminine.”

A music box. “Also too feminine.”

Next up is a fancy wine opener. Well, that’s actually a really good gift. Reluctantly, I nod with a smile. “It’s perfect.”

“Awesome,” she replies, moving past me to get to the register. She smells of vanilla with an undertone of what might be oranges. It’s pretty, and I can’t quite remember the last time a woman’s fragrance appealed to me.

“Would you like me to gift wrap this?” she asks.

“That would be awesome,” I reply, because anything that will give me the opening I need to ask her out is all right with me.

I am most definitely asking her out.

I mean, she’s hot, but she has this nerdy quality going on with the glasses and innocent fragrance. Her clothes are slightly baggy, not the form-fitting, bare-all concoctions most women I hook up with wear.

She’s like a breath of fresh air and this perplexes me, because I’ve never been overly attracted to her type before.

“So how long have you been working here?” I ask genially as she reaches under a cabinet behind the register to pull out a long bin with wrapping paper in it.

“I own the place,” she replies without looking up. In her tone, there’s amusement I would never even consider she was the owner, along with pride in herself that she owns this place.

“Wow,” I reply, surprised and impressed. I turn around, taking in the store once more. She must be doing okay since this is a high-rent commercial district of Phoenix.

“Opened it about six months ago,” she replies, rummaging through the bin. “Lifelong dream and all.”

“Good for you.” I lean on the checkout counter, watching her with appreciation while her back is turned. “So, I take it you’re the ‘Clarke’ of ‘Clarke’s Corner’?”

Without warning, she glances over her shoulder and I manage to tear my eyes off her ass just in time. “That’s me. Clarke Webber.”

“Aaron Wylde,” I reply in turn. I watch carefully to see if there’s a glimmer of recognition, since I am a famous hockey player, after all. But she didn’t seem to recognize my face when I walked in, or, if she did, she played it super cool.

Now, she just gives me a polite nod and murmurs, “Nice to meet you.”

Yeah… she has no clue who I am, which means she’s not a hockey fan. It isn’t all that surprising. While the Vengeance coming to Phoenix last year generated immense buzz and excitement, not everyone is a fan. I saw a recent article that said TV viewership for the final Cup championship game was at 2.9 million. Contrasted to the 19.3 million people who watched the Game of Thrones finale, it’s obvious professional hockey is a niche.

Clarke jolts me from my thoughts by turning to face me.

“Is this a formal wedding or something a bit more casual?” She holds up two different rolls of paper. I’m assuming one is fancy and the other isn’t, but fuck if I can tell the difference.

“It’s going to be an outdoor wedding, so I’d say maybe casual.”

“Got it,” she replies, attention returning to the wine opener. As she works at removing the price tag and wrapping it, I prattle on, which is weird for me. “It’s kind of a spontaneous type thing. The couple is engaged, and they were going to do something bigger, but they had an accidental pregnancy, and decided to just go for it.”

“Oh, good for them,” she intones, and I can feel the smile in her words. “And, honestly, if they already have a wine opener—and chances are they do—it’s always good to have a backup.”

With the package wrapped, she starts to ring up the purchase. A surge of panic hits me when I realize that, once this exchange is complete, I’ll be expected to walk out that door with a wrapped wine opener under my arm—which I don’t need—and this gorgeous woman but a memory.

I struggle to think of anything to get our conversation where I need it so I can make a move. Ask her out and arrange something.

Fuck, this is hard.

I suppose it comes with the territory of being nothing but a playboy who prefers to hop from bed to bed. Also, it’s a bit of an issue that I often rely on my looks or fame to get me where I’m going. Most of my hookups happen after games or in bars where literally dozens of puck bunnies throw themselves at me, and it’s just a matter of choosing the one I’m most attracted to.

“What kind of books do you sell?” I blurt out.

Clarke blinks those dreamy eyes, her auburn brows drawing inward slightly as if that’s the weirdest question for a bookstore owner to get. “Um… a bit of everything, really. And if I don’t have what you’re searching for, I can easily get it for you. Something in particular you need?”

And… another dead-end conversation.

I haven’t read a book in years.

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Product Release Date: May 12, 2020

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