|Cover By Meredith Russell|
Loving his best friend’s sister goes against every code he knows, but one kiss is all it takes.
Ryan Flynn’s life and career with the Ice Dragons hockey team is defined by a code: friendship, loyalty, respect, leadership, and protection. A call from his best friend’s sister ends up with him taking her home, and it’s all he can do to remember that she’s off limits. It doesn’t matter that she’s too much of a temptation for a man on the edge, he’s promised her brother he wouldn’t let any guy in professional sports anywhere near her, and that includes him.
Kat has been in lust with hockey player Ryan Flynn since she first laid eyes on him. The problem? Ryan is her brother’s best friend, bound by a complicated code of chivalry both on and off the ice. When he rescues her and then takes her home, she just needs a single kiss—and he is more than happy to help her out. When the kiss is just the start of something they need to hide from her brother, abruptly things are out of control.
Could Ryan, the hard man of the Dragons, see her as anything more than his best friend’s sister? And will Kat be able to catch and keep this Dragon who is the other half of her?
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Carly’s Book Reviews – 4/5 – “….Four stars to RJ for drawing me in, making me fall in love with her characters, and keeping me rooting for the home team….”
Jen’s Corner Spot – “….Really cute story, good, well thought out characters and great beginning. Can’t wait to read more in the series….”
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Lustful Literature – 4/5 – “….If I had to choose my absolute favorite type of book, hands down it will always be a hockey romance. I am a lover of the sport and there is just something about this type of book that I absolutely love. But with that being said, I am a very picky reader when it comes to my Hot Hockey Hunks and have to say I enjoyed Ryan and Kat’s story….”
Dog-Eared Daydreams – 4.5/5 – “….The Code was a good series starter, introducing readers to other members of the Ice Dragons hockey team as well as several marked members of Kat’s team at her fire station plus giving an interesting story that was about finally being honest about one’s feelings and going after that happily-ever-after. The book was also about family and about being part of a team. I enjoyed Kat and Ryan’s story and found both them and their love story easy to get into. This was a promising beginning to Ice Dragons, and I look forward to more! The Code gets 4.5 out of five stars….”
Foxylutely Books! – 4/5 – “….Overall I really enjoyed this and if the romance had come in that little bit sooner with a touch more angst and drama then this would surely have been a five star read. I would definitely recommend it though and look forward to the next book in the series. Four stars….”
The Opinionated Woman’s Musings – 4/5 – “….This book got many hearts as it did because of Ryan. He was rough and tough on the outside, but tender and sweet on the inside. He had been in love with Kat for years but never thought he was good enough. I like that he decided to bite the bullet and go after what he wanted. He let her set the pace and didn’t pressure her to commit until she was ready….”
A Page To Turn Reviews – 5/5 – “….Guys. Sports romance generally isn’t my thing. That’s largely because sports as a whole aren’t my thing. But then hockey happened and I can’t get enough of it, so when I saw this book, I was absolutely dying to read it! I mean, really. Can it get any better than an adorable love story and hot hockey players? I think not! The characters were real and refreshing, and the situation (minus the hockey) was one I know from experience. Despite the fact that my brother is younger than me, he’s fiercely protective and protective brothers have a way of scaring off any and all romantic prospects. There’s also this unwritten rule that somehow makes you off limits to your brother’s friends. All of that was completely real in this story and I loved how easy it was to relate to! I also loved the characters. It’s so easy for a love story to focus on physical attraction and superficial love. But because Kat and Ryan have a history, it allowed a great deal more substance in this love story. They really did have the chance to love each other for all that they were and all that they weren’t…..”
Nicole’s Book Musings – 4/5 – “….I was drawn to this book because Ryan is a hockey player and I love hockey books. It has also has one of my favorite troupes brother’s best friend/brother’s sister. It’s great story where this hockey team has a code they live by,but Ryan sure would to break the rule of not dating his best friend’s sister. I guess you could say this book also has my favorite troupe of friends to lover because Ryan and Kathryn have been friends forever and growing up Ryan was like a second brother. You can feel the sexual tension between the two. The struggle to keep their relationship in the friend zone, but the sparks are to hot to deny….”
Making it happen – 4.5/5 – “….While I’ve read many of RJ Scott’s M/M books and loved them, this is the first of her M/F stories that I’ve tried. Verdict? She’s just as good on this side, and I’m excited to continue following the Ice Dragons series as it unfolds! The brother’s best friend/best friend’s sister trope is always a favorite-you’ve got an entwined past and a built-in tension already established, and now add to this that’s it’s a hockey romance too? My boxes were getting ticked off left and right….”
Wicked Reads – “….Yes! This is what I hoped for when one of my favourite m/m writers started writing m/f romance. We still have a wonderfully intense leading man, but this time he is perfectly matched with a fiercely independent woman….” – Please click the link for all the reviews by Wicked Reviews
Ryan was ready to kill someone. It didn’t matter if it was the desk sergeant, the janitor cleaning the floors or the guy who had laid hands on Kathryn. Someone was going to be in a world of hurt tonight.
He thumped a fist on the counter, adrenaline spiking to the point where normally he’d drop gloves and pummel another defenceman into the ice. All he had here was the steely-eyed cop with the determination of a momma bear guarding her cubs. Not to mention a janitor who had stopped cleaning floors and was openly staring.
“I want. To see. Her. Now,” he forced out through gritted teeth.
“You’ll be taken through in a few minutes,” the cop—Travis, according to his badge—said. The same thing he’d been saying over and over since Ryan burst through the doors.
“She called me.”
“And as soon as we are able, we will show you through. Please take a seat.”
Ryan pushed away from the counter, his hands in fists at his side, a red mist descending. Kathryn was somewhere in this precinct.
And she was hurt.
“Is he in the building?” Ryan asked.
“The asshole who hurt Kathryn? Is he here?”
Just give me five minutes with the guy, and I’ll show him what it’s like to hurt.
“I don’t have that information,” Travis said.
The cop was lying. Somewhere in this building was the fucker who had hurt Kat, and Ryan just needed a few seconds alone with him. He wasn’t sitting down for one freaking second.
He bounced on the balls of his feet, ready to burst through the doors and find her as soon as they unlocked.
The janitor worked his way closer, still staring. “Are you—” the guy began, sounding awed.
Ryan glared and crossed his arms over his chest. “No. I just look like him.”
“Oh.” The janitor looked disappointed. Luckily it seemed he actually believed that a six-four man with Ryan Flynn’s face, height, and aggressive stance wasn’t really the D-man of the Ice Dragons hockey team, after all. The janitor shuffled away, his bucket rolling after him.
Ryan wanted to feel guilty—he loved interacting with fans—but tonight he couldn’t. Hell, there wasn’t room for guilt in with the anger and the worry. The last thing he needed right now was to be told it sucked that the Dragons might not make the playoffs. Nor did he want advice on keeping his temper under lock and key and to not be that enforcer who made stupid penalties, and to just do his job. He certainly didn’t want the new favorite from fans: that it was all Ryan’s fault the Dragons’ star wing, Loki, was out for the rest of the season.
He knew what he had and hadn’t done, and he didn’t need random people telling him that shit. In fact, right now he just needed through the door, but coming over as a madman wasn’t working, so he added some of the charm he sometimes allowed through. He looked behind him to make sure the janitor had vanished.
“Do you know who I am? I’m Ryan Flynn.”
He realized he sounded like a complete douchebag, but if using his name got him through that door he’d use it.
Travis looked down at the paperwork. “So I see,” he said, with an infuriatingly even tone in his voice.
“I’m a D-man for the Ice Dragons,” he added.
Travis frowned a little at that. Maybe Ryan wasn’t specific enough.
“A defenceman, with the hockey team, at the Sweetings Arena. You know. Hockey.” He made a swing with his arm, like that would help.
“I know who you are,” Travis said.
“Then you know I can get you tickets for the next game—hell, next season, man, if you just let me in.”
“Sir, please, you need to sit down and wait.”
“Two seasons?” Ryan said, a little desperately. Even if the Dragons didn’t take him after next season, he’d damn well pay for the second year of tickets himself.
“I’m a baseball fan,” Travis said. “Please sit down.”
Ryan didn’t have any contacts within the nearest baseball team. So, all out of options, he finally he did.
The chair was tiny, and it creaked under him as he fell heavily into it, causing Travis to look up and quirk an eyebrow. So sue him if he broke a chair. Kat needed him, and he wanted to be on the other side of the desk. The damned cop was guarding the place better than the Dragons’ goalie guarded his net.
He pulled out his cell, the evidence of the calls he’d received from Kat on his record. He’d ignored his phone for the first three times, but after the caller tried four times, he finally answered just to shut it up. He’d not even looked at the name, snappy and tired, and then Kat had spoken.
Something happened, I need your help.
He was putting his sneakers on before he even said he was on his way.
They wont let me leave on my own. Can you come and get me?
Finally, the door behind the desk opened, and a skinny cop spoke to Travis under her breath.
Ryan strained to listen and to read their lips. He’d gotten good at that on the bench, watching the other team talk. Part of being a hockey player was insider knowledge on what a team might do next. Here, he couldn’t make out much more than a few words. His chest tightened until breathing was hard, and he pressed a fist to his sternum. Should Kat be in the hospital? What were they saying?
The two of them looked over at him.
Travis nodded. “Mr. Flynn? Officer Meeks will take you through now.”
His tone of voice was compassionate, and horror joined the panic inside Ryan. Had something happened? Kat had sounded okay on the phone, kind of off-center and speaking in soft tones, but she’d been talking.
Loki should be here. Ryan should have woken him up. Loki was her brother, and he should be here. What if she needed him? He and Kat were as close as siblings—rivalry, arguments, teasing, shared memories, but would he be enough?
What if Ryan couldn’t make things right? He wasn’t calm like Loki; he had an aggression inside him that fifteen years of playing hockey had honed to perfection. Kat didn’t need Ryan, with his temper or the hell he would threaten to rain down on anyone who hurt her. She needed her brother, with his spark, and his heart, and his own brand of compassion.
“I can’t…,” he heard himself saying, his voice quiet, his fists tight.
One minute he was demanding to see her, the next it was impossible to imagine her beyond that door, hurt, maybe. Upset.
“Sir,” Officer Meeks said, “this way.”
What if she sees the temper in me and I scare her?
And worse, what if I give myself away? What if I pull her into my arms and tell her everything that’s inside me. What if I grab hard and never let her go? Or ruin everything I’ve worked so hard to keep right?
Finally, something in his brain told his feet to move, and he followed the officer through the door. As soon as it closed behind him, Officer Meeks stopped.
“I understand that you’re a family friend.”
“Yes,” he managed. “Nicolas Lecour, her brother, he’s recovering from surgery. He’s back home ….”
But it didn’t matter where Loki was, all that mattered was that Ryan was here and Kathryn needed him.
“Kathryn was caught up in a gas station robbery along with a family of four from Wisconsin. The clerk pressed a panic button, and first responders attended. The perpetrator pulled a gun on her, and there was a short standoff until he was finally detained. She made her statement, and we suggested she go to the hospital, which she declined.” Meeks looked at him with a frown as though she couldn’t understand why Kat wouldn’t want to go to the hospital.
“She’s a paramedic. She’d know if she was hurt,” Ryan defended.
Kat wouldn’t put herself in danger by refusing treatment if she needed it. Would she?
“Often first responders are the worst patients,” Officer Meeks said softly. Then she laid a hand on his arm. “She refused further assessment, and our protocols kicked in for a family member or friend to assist. You need to advocate for her, get her medical attention if you feel she needs it.”
Ryan stared at her. He’d heard the words, and he felt sick. It sounded like she was really hurt. But if it was really bad, she’d be in the hospital, right? Then he considered Meeks’s words; that first responders were stubborn, and he knew that to be true. He’d never met a more tenaciously focused woman in his life. How hurt would she have to be to give in? She might be sitting there bleeding and still say she wasn’t going to a hospital. Just like a hockey player would.
“I’ll talk to her,” he promised. I’ll make sure the determined idiot is okay, and I’ll carry her to the hospital if I need to.
Because I can do that.
She could fight and hiss and demand he let her go, but he was bigger and stronger, and he’d make sure she was okay.
Officer Meeks led him down a maze of corridors, through a security door, and then stopped beside an innocuous sign stating Family Room.
“I’ll stay out here,” Meeks said with a nod.
Ryan swallowed the dread inside him. He even attempted to form a smile, but he knew it was likely crooked and wrong from the widening of the officer’s eyes. He probably looked one step away from losing his cool.
“Through there,” she murmured in encouragement.
He settled his breathing. And then he opened the door, slipped inside, and shut it behind him before he could second-guess why he was here.
The room was simple: sofas, a coffee table in the middle, a large skylight, and corner lamps. At the moment, the room was softly lit by one of the lamps.
Sitting bolt upright in one corner of the largest sofa was Kat.
Ryan took one look at her face and couldn’t help himself; a curse fell from his lips without conscious thought. A vivid scarlet mark ran from her eye socket to her cheekbone, as if someone had deliberately slapped her; bruises ringed her neck, and her lip was cut, evidenced by a butterfly bandage just below the left corner. She was so beautiful, and he couldn’t bear to see the marks on her soft skin.
She looked up at him, her green eyes bright. He stepped closer and she stared at him. Her lower lip trembled as though she was fighting tears; he wanted to hold her and stop her from crying.
God, all I want is to hold her.
“Take me home, Ryan,” she said, her voice broken. Then she added a much smaller, quieter “Please.”
Ryan had made a lot of promises over the years, but the one he’d had the most trouble with was the one he’d given to Loki. He’d made it on the night of Kat’s first prom, vowing that he’d have Loki’s back if one of the punk-ass kids at school laid hands on Kathryn.
“You have to promise,” Loki had said to him.
They were nineteen years old and drunk on cheap beer. They’d done the whole intimidation thing, and Kat’s prom date vanished into the darkness. That was a good thing: the baseball captain might be academically gifted, but he was a jock. Therefore he wasn’t good enough for Kat.
Not in her brother’s eyes, and not in his.
“Promise what?” He could only watch as Kat cried because the jock had left.
They’d only meant to intimidate him into playing nice, not get him to run away with his tail between his legs.
“Don’t ever let her near a jock,” Loki snapped. He didn’t appear to have any remorse at seeing the guy run, but then, he hadn’t seen his sister’s tears. “No one likes us. Because all we are is hockey, and all we do is for the team.”
“We fuck and leave, and nothing means anything.”
“Don’t you ever let anyone like us hurt her.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
The smile slipped from his face when the enormity of what he’d promised sunk into his soul, and for a second he hesitated. He had to be the friend she’d need. Not the man who kissed her to stop her crying after prom. The same man who then stepped back as she ran from him, and didn’t go after her.
The same idiot who’d been in love with her then, and couldn’t imagine life without her now.
Ryan’s chest tightened “Jesus, Kat.”
He noticed certain things: the shine in her eyes, the marks on her pale skin, the way her hands were in fists in her lap, and the determination eerily similar to the shield her brother used to face the world. The same utter focus he showed on the ice, she had going on here. He couldn’t say no to anything Kat asked.
“Let’s go,” he said.
She pushed herself up, and he held out a hand. At first, she ignored it, and he hated that she wouldn’t let him help. Then, after that slight hesitation, her small fingers curled into his hold. He helped her to stand as she wobbled and her grip on him tightened. Then he pulled her into a hug, as a brother would a sister: a tight, firm hug, where he tried to make her feel he was here for her.
She pressed close for a second, gripping his worn Dallas Stars shirt and holding tight. Then she backed away a little, but still with the hold on him. She looked unsteady on her feet, despite the determination to go.
“They said he hurt you….” Ryan began.
“No.” She held up a hand to stop him. “I don’t want to talk anymore.”
“They said if I got someone to take me home—”
“I want to go home—”
“Kat, calm down.”
It seemed like they were talking over each other. He gripped her hard and shook her a little, just to stop her panicked words. She wrenched free of him stumbled and went white, all the blood draining from her face. He gripped her again to stop her falling, and she hissed in pain. Where he held her, bruises were forming, red and sore—the imprint of another man’s hands on her—and his stomach churned.
“I’m fine,” she snapped and pushed down the sleeve.
As she moved, she swayed and thumped him in the arm for seemingly no reason. Tension clearly knotted inside her. When had this turned from him coming to help her, to being the object of her anger?
“Just sign me out of here. They won’t let me out of here until someone signed responsibility or I agreed to go to the hospital. Fuck.”
The curse word was new. Kat didn’t use profanity to emphasize how she felt; she was too calm and clever for that. The words were wrong coming from her mouth. Even when she and Ryan argued, bickered, and teased, she never lowered to his level. That was exactly the point at which he would lose an argument. The second he cursed to make his point, she would grin at him, and he would kick himself.
“Kat, sweetheart, this is—”
“Don’t sweetheart me, Ryan Flynn. Just get me out-of-here.” The words ran together, and she gripped him harder and swayed into him.
Her hands on him were enough to jar him back to focusing in on her. Fear and anger left him in an instant, replaced with compassion. Her stubborn independence was something he admired, but right now he needed to take care of her.
She leaned into him, still unsteady on her feet, and in a smooth motion, he went against every instinct that said she’d hate this, and he scooped her up in his arms. She weighed less than he bench-pressed, and he held her firmly.
But she struggled. “Let me down.”
She twisted in his arms, and he loosened his hold only so that he could get a better grip. Finally, he had her pinned in his arms, and she continued to struggle without effect.
“Keep still. Please, Kat, let me help.”
She cursed again, but more telling was that despite her cussing and fighting, she allowed a soft exhalation of breath against his throat. Then she didn’t argue anymore and relaxed into his hold. He released the grip a little, and she immediately attempted to wriggle free. So he tightened it again. He knew all her tricks.
He and Kat constantly argued. From breakfast cereals to hockey plays, she had opinions on everything, and he loved that about her. They fought and scratched and chirped each other whenever they were together.
But right then she was hurt; she looked like a stiff wind would knock her down.
Ryan pulled open the door one-handed.
Meeks was waiting. “Sir?” In that word was a multitude of questions. Why are you carrying her? Where are you going? Promise me you’ll get her to a doctor.
“Put me the hell down,” Kat snapped and wriggled to the point that Ryan had to drop her to her feet. She smoothed her top, a flush high on her cheeks.
He thought he heard her use the word “Neanderthal” under her breath. He was used to that; it was her go-to insult for him.
“This way,” Meeks said.
He followed her, just a few steps behind Kathryn, who could out stubborn even the most persistent defenceman.
“We’ll be in touch,” Meeks said as they left, and Ryan acknowledged the comment with a nod.
He walked to his SUV, assisted Kat into the passenger seat as best she would let him, and then buckled her up, despite the fact she was batting at his hands to get in there and do it for herself.
“Quit that,” he warned.
Amazingly, she did, but not without a low mutter that sounded something like a combination of “asshole” and “hockey player.” She smelled of antiseptic, but under that was the same intoxicating scent that was all Kathryn. Enough to get him thinking of the need to touch her that hissed and bubbled under his skin.
Stop it. Kat’s hurt. Kat needs me.
He stopped by the passenger door and looked up at the night sky, at the clouds obliterating the stars and hiding the moon. A few deep breaths and he collected his sanity from wherever he’d left it. Then he rounded the vehicle and climbed in, buckled up, and started the engine. When he was sure he could pull away before she jumped out, he began to drive and made his announcement.
“I’m taking you to the hospital.” He used the tone he seldom pulled on Kat, the one that brooked no discussion, but he knew he’d lost as soon as her lips thinned and she frowned.
“I don’t need the hospital.”
“Kat, just let them look you over.”
“Ryan, for God’s sake. I have no broken bones, I didn’t hit my head, my breathing is fine. I didn’t get shot—”
“Take me home.”
“No,” he snapped, just as firm in his intent.
She unsnapped her belt and made to leave the car, even though they were traveling at twenty miles per hour at this point. But Ryan was too fast, pulling over and pressing the button to lock all the doors. Kat leaned over him to release the master lock, but he held her back, only softening his hold when she let out a huff of pain.
“Sit the fuck back and put your belt on, Kat,” he growled.
“This is stupid,” she groused, but she sat back in her seat and pulled the belt across, and for a moment there was silence in the car. Then she sighed noisily. “No hospital. Please, Ry.” She wouldn’t look at him. “I want to go home.”
Her voice was lower, not filled with determination and anger but with a hint of vulnerability that Ryan knew she would never admit to.
He beat a steady rhythm with his thumbs on the steering wheel. Every fiber of him wanted her checked out by a professional. What would Loki do in his place? Would her brother simply drive her to the hospital and ignore everything she said?
Yes, probably, but he was playing the role of parent and brother all at the same time. Loki had been all those things to her since their parents died when he was only sixteen, and he took his responsibilities very seriously. The police had been the ones to break the news: Loki and Kat’s parents were dead in a freak auto accident. Ryan had done everything a sixteen-year-old kid could do for his best friend and his best friend’s sister. He’d become like a second brother.
Loki and Kat had moved in with their aunt, a woman who was more interested in soap operas and smoking than bringing up her sister’s kids. Not that there wasn’t love there. Ryan was sure their Aunt Celia was a good woman; she just hid it very well. He privately thought that the life-insurance payout from Loki and Kat’s parents’ death had smoothed the path with having a place to stay.
As soon as Loki turned eighteen, he assumed full responsibility for Kat and found a place in Vermont near to the Dragons. Kat continued her studies there. The Dragons had helped facilitate that move. They’d invested in the young kid from Canada, and he’d paid with complete devotion to the team. Hell, he’d signed with them until 2021—that really was commitment.
Loki had the kind of bond with his team that Ryan had envied. The kind of connection that he was now working on finding himself—
“Nicky wouldn’t take me to the hospital.”
Kat interrupted his thought process. She called her brother Nicky, but Nicolas Lecour would always be Loki to the team.
I’m not Loki. Not her brother.
“He would,” he argued. “He’d have you there so fast you wouldn’t know what hit you.”
Then he winced at his words. Something had hit her, all right, and hurt her.
She glanced at him with that expression that caught him in the heart every time. The one where she looked like he hung the stars. The one that meant he would instantly do anything for her.
“But this is you…,” she said softly. “You won’t make me.”
She made him feel like a strong man, a better man, when she looked at him that way. As if, under the anger and the persona and the dedication that made Ryan the man he was, there could be a nice guy.
She even added in a small pout and puppy eyes. He was so being played.
Loki called it the little-sister look, the one that always worked with him. But Ryan couldn’t help it if he didn’t like to think of her giving him any kind of sibling look at all.
“You can’t go home,” he said quietly, hopeful she would listen without arguing. “What if you have a concussion? What if—” something happens to you again? What if I’m not there when it does?
“Kat.” He was tired and worried, and she wasn’t listening. “This is ridiculous.”
She laid a hand on his arm, and her expression was raw, way past a need to get around him. This was honesty at its most brutal.
He heaved a big sigh. “Okay.” And finally, he headed through the city. Only when they reached Highway 2 and he headed north would it become obvious that he was taking her back to the house he shared with her brother and not to the apartment in South Burlington that she called home.
When he turned off to his place, she tensed but didn’t say anything.
The house he and Loki shared had an extra bedroom with a rollaway; he’d take that, and she could have his room. And when Loki woke up in the morning, oblivious to everything that had happened tonight, he would see that Kat had been hurt but Ryan had done his bit in looking after his sister.
“How is Nicky’s knee?” she asked after a while.
“He’s out of it completely, hopped up on pain meds.”
It had been Ryan’s cell that she called, but she might well have tried her brother first.
“I didn’t call Nicky at all,” she explained as if she could read his mind. “I knew he wouldn’t be able to come and get me. That’s why I called you. You’re my alternate.”
Ryan shot her a glance. “Did you just make a hockey joke?”
“What else do you expect? You and Nicky indoctrinated me.”
Ryan considered the comment. “What about Evan?”
“What about him?”
“He’s your boyfriend?”
“Hmm.” She went quiet.
She huffed a loud sigh. “I didn’t call Evan from the precinct.”
She didn’t call her boyfriend? But she called Ryan? What does that mean?
She ignored the bombshell about Evan. “He’s working in New York at the moment.”
“Okay, when does he get here?”
“Not any time soon I hope. I don’t want him here, any more than I want Nicky, because Nicky would have wanted to kill someone.”
Ryan held his tongue at first, but even he wasn’t that good at hiding how he felt. “I tell you this: if I ever see the man who laid a hand on you, I will kill him, never mind Loki.”
“Ryan, you can’t….”
She didn’t finish the statement. Probably would have said something like “Ryan, you can’t kill someone—you’ll end up in jail.”
They managed the rest of the ride in silence, reaching the small gated estate a little before 3:00 a.m. He parked outside on the drive and was out and around to her side before she exited the car. He held out his hands.
She waved them away. “I can walk,” she snapped. Then when he stepped back, she softened a little. “Sorry, but I can, though.” She leaned on him. “I’ll just use you like this.”
“Use all you want.” He blushed scarlet when he realized what he’d said. Thank God it was dark out there.
The security light flicked on. Fucking awesome timing. He hoped to hell his embarrassment wasn’t too obvious, but she didn’t seem to notice anything. Together they headed to the entrance, and as he let them in the front door, he had a sudden thought. “Where is your car?”
“Still at the pump I guess. Or the cops might have moved it? The keys are in my bag now.”
“I’ll get it in the morning.”
“You can drop me off—”
“You’re not going back there. I’ll get it.” How, he didn’t know, but she wouldn’t be going back there anytime soon. “And your cell?”
“I have hardly any charge now. It’s in my purse….” She looked confused for a moment and pressed a hand to her temple.
“It’s okay, it’s an iPhone, you can use my charger in the bedroom.”
He sat her on the sofa and then went into the kitchen to get water, wondering if she needed Tylenol or something, but she called him back. He grabbed the bottle of water from the refrigerator and walked back out into the wide-open sitting room.
She’d curled up in the corner of the sofa, much as she’d been in the precinct. But this time she didn’t look brave and strong and like she could fight demons. No, this time her legs were under her, her hands crossed over her chest, and she’d pulled on the Dragons jersey that had been lying on the back of the sofa.
His number. Seventeen, on the sleeve.
Confusion flooded him at seeing that. She didn’t wear Dragons colors normally, her preference firmly fixed on the old Sundin sweater she had from the early years of following the Leafs, the team local to their hometown outside Toronto.
Kat didn’t attend that many games, she had a demanding career, and she’d lived hockey up to this point in her life.
Ryan opened his mouth to chirp at her about wearing his shirt—his default setting—and stopped himself when she looked up at him, and he saw the extent of her bruises again. The idea of someone hurting her stole his words. He handed her the water and sat on the small coffee table in front of her. The thing creaked, but it had survived worse than his weight before and held solid. The Dragons’ goalie had once sprawled right across the damn thing, and he was built like a brick wall.
“You want to talk?” he asked, keeping his tone gentle.
She sipped at the water and kept her eyes on him with a steady gaze. “Nothing to tell, really. My shift was done and I dropped Ally at her place, but I needed gas. I filled up, paid, and was grabbing a coffee, right? Just normal stuff. But this guy came in with a gun, demanded money, and when the cops arrived decided one way of getting out alive was to take me as a hostage.”
She explained it like it happened every day, like it was okay for her to put herself in harm’s way. Did she not get it? He respected she was a paramedic. She’d been one for three years, worked side by side with Ally and the firefighters at the station, in all kinds of shit situations, but to put herself in a position like this on her off time, with no radio backup and without her partner.
And a gun?
Ryan’s temper flared again, and he focused in on the bruises that ringed her throat, right where the tiny pulse was proof of precious life.
He dipped his head, unable to hold her gaze when his temper burned so bright inside him. “He held a gun on you. If I ever see him….”
“He was high on something. I tried to talk him down, but he wasn’t listening—”
Horror had him looking up at her again, and he couldn’t help the explosion of anger. “What the hell? You tried to talk him down? You don’t do shit like that, Kat.”
“It’s what I’m trained to do, and it was working. But then, I don’t know, it all went wrong, and he—”
She pressed a hand to her mouth, and her expressive eyes looked suddenly bright. Was she going to cry? Ryan couldn’t handle this; he’d never been able to handle her being upset. What could be worse than a criminal holding a gun to her head, having his hands on her throat…? “What, Kat?”
She bowed her head and full-body shuddered, wiping her mouth.
None of this was making sense.
“He kissed me.”
“What?” Ryan was blindsided; that made no sense at all. He sat upright, wondering if he knew anyone who could track this asshole down so that he and Loki could introduce him to what it meant to be in a fight.
She looked up at him, and there were real tears there. He wanted to make them disappear as he’d done when she was a child, when a piggyback from her brother’s best friend was enough to have her tears vanishing and laughter in their place.
He couldn’t do that now. That had been a very long time ago, before he’d kissed her on prom night in the vain hope she would want him back—and she’d turned and run.
Of course she ran, why wouldn’t she?
“He gave himself up,” she began patiently, swallowing the tears and firming her chin. “Dropped the gun. And then he pushed me back against the wall and kissed me. The cops pulled him off me. I couldn’t get him off me, Ryan….”
He had no words, no sense of what he was listening to, and he didn’t catch her in time before she stood up.
“I need to sleep,” she said.
“You can have my bed.”
“I don’t need to take your room—”
“Just use my damn bed, Kat,” he snapped, and she closed her eyes briefly, her shoulders sagging. He couldn’t help it, not only did he have this image of someone hurting her, but kissing her as well? He couldn’t handle the feeling of utter hopelessness mixed with fury that churned inside him.
“Okay,” she said in a small voice.
He instantly felt like complete shit, but he didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. Instead, he walked her out of the front room and down the corridor that led to his half of the house, opening the door and ushering her inside. He hadn’t made the bed that morning. In fact, his room looked like an explosion in a sports store, full of promotional clothing from a company he had a contract with, and other stuff sent to him over the season: pucks, caps to sign, jerseys in last year’s designs to give away, posters rolled in tubes, all piled in one corner of his large room.
“Sorry ’bout the mess.”
Kat shrugged. “You forget I had to share with my brother when we were kids. Nothing like the smell of used hockey gear to wake you up in the morning.”
“It’s all new stuff, clean,” he defended, then shut his mouth when she sent him a halfway affectionate look.
“Well, duh,” she said.
“Okay, so Loki knows nothing. You want me to get to him first when he wakes up? Explain, so he doesn’t go out and kill someone?” Ryan was teasing, anything to get her to smile.
Instead, she grew defensive. “I can handle my brother.” Then she seemed to zone out, and her fingers went to her lips again.
Ryan ended up standing in the doorway wondering what the hell he should be doing. Going? Staying? Waking up Loki, if that was even possible with the post-op meds he was on.
Kat’s voice was impossibly quiet, and Ryan’s heart twisted. She looked lost, as though all the sass and confidence had drained out of her. “Can you fix this?”
“I’ll fix anything you need me to,” he said without thought or hesitation. What did she need? He could track the guy down, beat him into the ground; he bet over half the team would have his back.
But what she actually said next floored him completely.
“Can you kiss me?”
He blinked and swore the earth stopped moving and time didn’t exist. “What?” He knew he sounded just this side of horrified.
She stepped back until her knees hit the bed, and looked down and away. “Never mind.”
Kiss her? Do the one thing he promised himself he would never do again?
This was dangerous. The concept of kissing the only woman in his life that he’d ever truly loved terrified him. Kat was off limits. Not only because he would never want to hurt her, but because she had the capacity to hurt him.
And then she looked up at him, shoulders back, her stance solid. “No, actually, this isn’t a situation I want to brush off. I need your help, Ryan. I need you to kiss me so I can have that memory and not his.”
“Fuck, Kat, I can’t—”
“You kissed me after prom, remember? It was a nice kiss.”
Nice? That kiss had broken him for any other kiss after, because it threatened his heart. “This isn’t right.”
She stiffened in resolve. “I’ll go out and find someone else, then,” she snapped.
And there it was: his Kat was back.
Jesus. “One kiss,” he said.
She put one hand on her hip and shook her head. “One is all I need, Ryan. Just lips. I’m not pushing my tongue in where all those puck bunnies have been.”
She looked so gorgeous, with fire in her eyes, her dark brown hair a little wild and tangled. She was everything he wanted, so what was one small kiss?
He stepped into her space and cradled her face in his hands. She was five six to his six four, and he stooped to reach her even as she leaned up.
He pressed a quick kiss to her lips and backed away, still cradling her face. “Okay?”
Their eyes met, and he stopped himself from stealing more than she wanted to give.
She frowned. Somehow he’d fucked everything up.
Then, in a surprising move, she leaned up, awkwardly off-center, and kissed him again. This time, the kiss was harder, her tongue tracing the seam of his closed mouth, enough so that he opened up and allowed himself the first taste of her he’d had in years.
And the kiss was heaven.
It was everything he remembered and more, and he held her close.
She stopped the kiss and moved away from his hands, and he was left stunned in the middle of his room.
“We’ll never talk of this again,” she said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
And with that, he was dismissed. Abruptly, even though his world was different, and despite the fact his chest was tight, all he wanted to do was run.
Because what had just happened was wrong. Loki would kill him.
What had he been thinking? He’d kept his heart safe for years. Why did he let his guard down now?
The answer was simple.
Because she’d asked him to. She didn’t want him anywhere near her—she never had—but he’d been in the right place at the right time.
And I would do anything for Kathryn Lecour. Anything.