Melting the Ice

Book 7 in the Play-by-Play Series

February 4, 2014

Melting the Ice

Book 7 in the Play-by-Play Series

Everything’s coming together for budding fashion designer Carolina Preston. Only months away from having her own line, she could use some publicity. That’s when her brother suggests his best friend as a model—hockey player Drew Hogan.

Carolina and Drew already have a history—a hot one, back in college. Unforgettable for Carolina, but for Drew, just another slap shot. This time, though, it’s different. His perfect body would be for professional use only. This time, she could use him.

Drew is all for it. He’s looking forward to the exposure. Plus, it would give him a chance to prove to Carolina that he’s changed. If only he could thaw her emotions, convince her to let down her guard and let him in just one more time…

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Carolina Preston’s pencil glided over the paper like an Olympic figure skater performing an arabesque. Light, easy strokes, the effort behind the task not showing as she created her art, because it was all in her head. But soon, elegant lines appeared, shapes forming on the blank canvas as what she’d visualized became a flowing, sleeveless silk top, followed by a sequined mini. She added a cropped leather jacket to mix hard with soft, sketched in some killer high heels to complete the look, then paused to peruse the finished product, so out of breath her heart pounded.

Nice. Not perfect yet, but as she took a sip of chai tea, she cocked her head to the side and made a few adjustments to the sketch, exhilarated to create her own line of clothing.

It had taken several years of working for someone else, of feeling like a prisoner, unable to stretch her wings. But finally, this fashion season—she was going to fly.

As she worked on her next design, the figure morphed into a man. Tall, lean, his hands slid into his pockets as he modeled a pair of slacks and a body-hugging shirt. No jacket necessary as the clothes would speak for the body.

She loved menswear, and it would be part of her signature line. She could already picture it on the runway, worn by some chiseled model with raven-dark hair, steely gray eyes and—

No. She wasn’t going to go there. She stood, stretched her back, and looked out the window of her Manhattan apartment. For November, it was ridiculously warm. She should take a walk before the weather changed.

Her cell rang and she smiled as her brother’s name came up.

“Hi, Gray.”

“Hey, we’re in town. Are you busy?”

“Extremely. I’m so glad you called. Come on over. I’d love to see you and Evelyn.”

She spent the next hour picking up the disaster in her apartment. She had drawings strewn around her work space, so she picked up as much as she could in there, then closed the door and concentrated on the living area. When the buzzer sounded, she let them in.

She threw her arms around her brother and squeezed him tight.

Melting the Ice

“You look great,” she said to him, then hugged Gray’s fiancée, Evelyn.

“Have you two been celebrating Gray’s win in the championship?”

Her brother didn’t even try to fight his grin. “Overly celebrating, I think.”

“It was a big turnaround from how he ended up last year,” Evelyn said as they took a seat in Carolina’s living room. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

“She’s just happy I didn’t crash into a wall.”

“Or go flying through the air, like last year.”

Carolina nodded. “Yes. I think you took at least five years off my life on that crash last year.”

“No injuries this year. We raced clean and won a lot, including the championship. Even better, bringing Alex on the team this year was the best move I could have made. He and Donny both ended up in the top twelve. I couldn’t ask for more.”

The pride in his voice was evident. Her brother had made a success out of Preston Racing.

“You’re doing so well,” Carolina said. “You must be thrilled.”

“I never thought it would turn out like this. When I started out, I just wanted to race.”

“I don’t know about that. You’ve always had ambition. And now you have Evelyn at your side, and she’s as ambitious as you. Maybe even more.”

Evelyn laughed. “That’s so true.”

“And how about you?” Carolina asked. “Staying busy with my dad?”

Evelyn smiled. “Incredibly. Living the dream here. And so is your father. He’s doing a remarkable job as the Vice President of the United States, just as I knew he would.”

Carolina loved that Evelyn was so dedicated to her father. And so in love with her brother. “How’s the separation working out for the two of you?”

Evelyn’s gaze shifted to Gray. “Actually, much better than I ever thought it would. We make time for each other, no matter how difficult it is.”

“It helps that Dad lets us use the family private jet a lot,” Gray said with a smile.

“I’m glad you two reconciled.”

“Me, too,” Gray said. “Speaking of, will you be coming to Washington for Thanksgiving this week?”

Carolina blew out a breath, thinking about everything she had to do to get ready for Fashion Week in February. It was the biggest event for designers to show off their lines, and something Carolina had been prepping for over a year to get ready for. “I don’t know. I have so much to do now that I’ve plunged into designing this line. And not a lot of time to do it before Fashion Week. It’s kind of mind-boggling.”

“I’m so happy for you,” Evelyn said. “I want to know everything, and I want to see it all.”

“Not much to see right now, I’m afraid. I’ve got a few things in production, but I’m still trying to decide what’s going to go into the line and what’s not, and selecting models.”

Melting the Ice

“Can you tell us the focus?” Evelyn asked.

“Right now I’m concentrating on mainly casual fashion for both men and women. I want to keep it along the lines of my own style. Fussy has never worked for me, and I don’t think it works for the average woman or man, and that’s who I want to clothe. I like movement and ease, and the way clothes make a person look and feel.”

She stared out the window, her mind whirling with the possibilities. “With a man, his body has always intrigued me.” She turned her attention to Gray. “Since you’ve played baseball and you race cars, I’ve watched you over the years. It’s helped me gain a keen understanding of movement.”

Gray laughed. “So, I’ve been your study guide for men’s fashion.”

Her lips curved. “Sort of. I’ve studied all types of men in various fields. Sometimes I’ll just go outside and sit on a park bench and watch men go by. But I keep going back to the sports angle. Surprisingly, I watch a lot of sports.”

“Why is that surprising?” Evelyn asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I just surprised myself. At first I did it to watch the angles. All the sports are different, but the way a man moves is always the same. I think a man’s body is inherently sexy, and I want to showcase that in my fashion, especially from a sports angle, because I believe that will appeal to a lot of men.”

“I think that’s a great idea,” Gray said. “So where are you on your models?”

She looked at him. “Well . . . if I could get you, that would be a definite plus.”

He laughed. “You want me to model for you.”

“Sure. You’d be perfect. You’re popular, and that will have a certain appeal.”

Gray wrinkled his nose.

Evelyn leaned back against the sofa. “Oh, this should be fun.”

“I also have a couple models on hold on the female side, but I need a few more guys, and I want to plug in to the sports angle.”

“Okay, I could see how that would work.”

Carolina grinned. “Great. So you’ll do it?”

“I’ll walk the runway for you if it’s just a onetime thing.”

“It will be.”

Gray nodded. “You could also ask Drew.”

Just hearing his name caused Carolina’s pulse to jump. For precisely that reason—and about a hundred others, she said, “No.”

“Why not? He plays here in New York, so he’d be the perfect sports figure to tap into. You’d have access to him, and you already know him.”

“Gray’s right. Drew would be ideal,” Evelyn said. “He’s good-looking, sexy, and immensely popular. He has a huge fan base. I can’t think of anyone who would be better to help launch your line.”

The problem was, neither could Carolina. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

But Gray was already pulling out his phone. She tried to think of reasons to have Gray stop the call. But apparently Drew had already answered.

“Hey, guess where I am?” He laughed. “No, not at a strip club.”

Evelyn shook her head.

Melting the Ice

“I’m at Carolina’s apartment in Manhattan.” Gray lifted his gaze to hers. “No, she’s not saying bad things about you. Not yet, anyway. We’re actually talking about her new fashion line and your name came up. She wanted to know if you’d be interested in being a model for her.”

No, she did not want him to be a model for her. Anyone but Drew. In fact, he was the last person she wanted in her head, or to see in person. He’d distract her in so many ways.

“You are? Great. Why don’t you come over?” Gray shot her an innocent smile, then gave Drew Carolina’s address. “We’ll see you soon, buddy.”

He hung up. “He laughed and said he’d model, but only if you promise he doesn’t have to go naked.”

She rolled her eyes and tried not to think about Drew showing up. “How about something to drink?”

She headed to the bar and fixed everyone cocktails. She sure needed one. By the time she served the drinks, her door bell sounded, so she went over to the door and buzzed Drew up.

When he knocked, she opened the door, abruptly wondering if her hair was combed and how long ago it had been that she’d put her makeup on.

And immediately felt ridiculous for even thinking those things. Why would she even care?

Suddenly, there he was, looking cool and casual in faded jeans that hugged his muscular legs, his light jacket hiding what she knew to be a spectacular torso.

“Hello, Drew.”

He smiled at her. “Hi, gorgeous.” He kissed her cheek before she could create distance. “You look stunning, as always.”

She swallowed, her heart picking up a fast rhythm she had no hope of tamping down. “Thank you. Won’t you come in?”

“Hey,” Gray said as he came into the foyer. “I’m glad we got a chance to meet up before Evelyn and I have to leave the city.”

They shook hands. “Me, too,” Drew said. “Congratulations on the championship. You kicked serious ass, especially on that last race.”

“Thanks.”

Drew took a seat.

“Can I fix you something to drink, Drew?”

He smiled up at Carolina. “A beer would be great, if you have one.”

She went to the bar and grabbed a beer out of the fridge at the bar, then brought it back to him.

“Thanks. So tell me about your fashion design. What’s going on?”

She took a seat in the chair across from him. “I left the designer I was working with and I’m starting my own line.”

His brows rose. “Big move for you.”

“Yes. But I felt if I didn’t make the move now, while I had all this inspiration, I might never do it.”

His gaze never wavered from hers. “Yeah? So tell me what’s inspiring you, Lina.”

His nickname for her never failed to make butterflies dance in her stomach. Or infuriate her, reminding her the way that nickname sailed from his lips that one night they’d spent together. That one and only night, before he’d walked out on her life as if she’d never existed. As if what they’d shared had never meant anything.

Melting the Ice

Because it hadn’t. Not to Drew, anyway.

But that was a long time ago, and she was a lot smarter now. She gave him a cursory overview, telling him much the same thing she’d told Gray and Evelyn.

“So . . . clothes. Sounds fun. And you want me to model some of those for you?”

“Yes. Sort of. But you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. I’m sure you’re busy with hockey season gearing up. I can find someone else.”

His lips curved into a smile that made her pulse dance. “Trying to get rid of me before we even get started?”

“No. I’m just giving you an out if you want one. Not a lot of sports figures enjoy modeling clothes. And this would require print ads, as well as runway.”

He took a long swallow of beer, then shrugged. “I’m game. I figure I owe you.”

“You don’t owe me a thing, Drew.”

“Then I’ll do it for the fun. And hey, if your fashion stuff is successful, it’ll draw attention to me and to the team, and that’s good for hockey, right?”

“That’s the way I’m looking at it, too,” Gray said.

“Speaking of exposure,” Evelyn said, standing, “The vice president has a meeting I need to be present for. We need to get going.”

Carolina laughed. “Give Dad a hug for me and tell him I’ll see him soon.”

She walked Gray and Evelyn to the door. “Thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry we couldn’t spend more time together.”

“We’ll see you at Christmas, for sure,” Gray said, giving her a pointed look that told her he wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Right?”

“Definitely. I should have a lot more work done by then, and I’ll need to take a breather. I promise not to miss Christmas.”

After hugging them both, she shut the door and headed back into the living room.

“Well, thanks for agreeing to help me out.” She hoped he saw that as a sign that their meeting was over.

Drew stood. “Have you eaten yet?”

“No. I’ve had a busy day.”

“Then let me take you out to eat.”

“I have an even busier night ahead of me. There’s a lot to do to get this line ready, and not nearly enough hours in the day.”

“Then we’ll order pizza. Or chinese. I’m hungry.”

Obviously, he wasn’t grabbing a clue that she was trying to get rid of him. “Fine. We’ll have something to eat. Then you need to leave.”

“Sure.”

And she’d count every second until Drew was out the door, because having him in her apartment was disconcerting.

She had no idea why she’d allowed this, when he was the one man she didn’t want to see or spend any time with. Instead, he was sprawled on her living room sofa, his long, lean body looking incongruous on her short, white designer sofa.

Taking a deep breath, she grabbed her phone.

“Chinese or pizza?”

“Either one is fine with me. I’m just hungry.”

She punched in the number of her favorite take-out chinese place and called in an order. They delivered faster than the pizza place, so she’d get Drew out of her apartment that much sooner.

She went back into the living room to find him outside on her balcony. She poured a refill on her wine and wandered out there. It was cool outside, but not unbearable. He was looking out over Central Park.

Melting the Ice

“Nice place, Lina.”

Cringing at his use of the nickname, she stepped up beside him. “I love it here.”

“I can see why.”

“Where do you live?”

“I’ve got a place over on the Upper West Side.”

She turned to face him. “I didn’t know you lived here.”

He gave her a smile. “I do play here, remember?”

He did. She just tried her best to forget that. “Of course.”

“I only live here during the season. During the off-season I take off and head back home to Oklahoma.”

“That’s nice. Do your parents still live there?”

“Yeah, but it’s not like I live with them. I’m a big boy now, babe.”

Again with an endearment. “I’m not your babe. I never was.”

He laid his beer on the table and turned around. “Still mad at me about that night, Lina?”

“It’s Carolina. And no, I’m not angry at all. I’ve never given it another thought.”

“I’m sure you haven’t. Because that would mean what happened between us mattered. And we both know it didn’t. Right?”

He’d taken a step forward, getting into her personal space.

“Or did it matter?” he asked, his voice going low and soft as he swept one of her curls behind her ear.

She shuddered, as always, lost in the stormy gray depth of his eyes.

He’d always been able to do this to her, to make her forget her resolve and turn her into the inept college girl she’d been all those years ago.

The doorbell rang, and Drew took a step back. Carolina pivoted and went inside to answer the door. Drew was right behind her, surprising her.

“I’ll take care of this,” he said, his wallet already open as he paid for the food and tipped the delivery guy.

“I could have done that,” she said, following behind him after she shut the door.

“I know you could have, but since I’m the one who insisted on dinner, I figured I should be the one to pay.”

Melting the Ice

“Fine. Let’s eat.” She was starting the countdown. Fifteen minutes for food and conversation, another fifteen for after-dinner talk, then he was gone.

She grabbed plates and laid out the cartons of food on her table. Drew had gone out to the balcony to grab his beer.

“Can I fix you something to drink?” he asked, obviously comfortable enough to open her cabinets and grab himself a glass.

“I’ll just have a glass of water.”

He ended up taking down two glasses. “I’ll take care of that for you.”

She didn’t want him to be nice. She wanted to think about him as he’d been in the past, like that night in college when he’d slept with her and dumped her the next day, effectively ruining her girlish fantasies about him.

But that was in the past. She was a grown-up and a lot of time had passed.

She was over it. Over him.

Right?

Except he was even more gorgeous now than he’d been in college. He’d filled out in places, slimmed down in others. He still wore his hair a little long and shaggy, which she found irresistibly appealing. His cheeks were more chiseled now, his jaw more angular, making her focus on those spectacularly sexy eyes of his that had always drawn her to him. Eyes that right now were zeroed in on her like a hawk zeroed in on its prey.

Yeah. Not gonna happen.

So instead, she scooped some chicken teriyaki and sesame noodles onto her plate, concentrating on the food instead of Drew.

“So what made you decide to launch your own line?” he asked as he lifted a forkful of rice up to his mouth.

Which of course made her raise her head just as he closed his mouth over the fork, which made her focus on his lips. Drew had very full lips, and despite all the years that had passed since—since they’d been intimate, she could still remember what it felt like when his mouth had pressed against the side of her neck, and what he had tasted like, and how gentle he’d been with her, since it had been her first time.

She’d lost herself in that night, that only night with him. And it had taken a goddamned eternity to get over him.

“Carolina.”

She jerked her head up. “What?”

He smiled at her. “What made you decide to launch your own line now?”

“Oh.” That’s right. He’d asked her that question and she’d zoned out, slipping into the past so easily, like she always did whenever he was near. “I couldn’t handle working for David Faber any longer.”

“What didn’t you like about working for him?”

After swallowing, she took a sip of water and laid her fork down. “Where to start? He’s demanding, which I can handle. Designers often are. The difference with David is that he’s high-strung all the time, which creates such a nerve-racking work place. And he’s such a jealous bitch, treating his designers like slaves, refusing to let them provide any input. It was stifling working for him, which was why I accelerated my move to designing my own line. If he’d once taken any of my suggestions rather than treating me like nothing more than a seamstress, I might have stayed with him, because the man is truly brilliant. But he’s so neurotic and so afraid someone’s going to steal his designs, he’s impossible to work with.”

Melting the Ice

Drew studied her. “Hard to work in an environment where your contributions aren’t appreciated.”

And just like that, he’d nailed it, when she’d thought for sure he’d just nod and say “uh-huh” or something like that. “Yes, it was. Not that I expected to take over or anything, but I had good ideas, dammit. Ideas that would have helped his line. Not myself, but him.”

“I understand. And it’s his loss, isn’t it? Because you’re going to create your own line now and kick his ass.”

Admittedly, she was shocked by the compliment. “I don’t know about that. But taking that step was freeing in a way I never thought it would be. At least initially.”

“And now you’re nervous because you’re on your own now and you don’t know if you’ll succeed.”

He was also annoyingly keen at identifying her biggest worry. “Maybe.”

“Don’t be worried. You’ll be great.”

She pushed her half-empty plate to the side. “How can you be so confident, when you know nothing about me?”

“Easy,” he said, standing and moving into the living room, where she’d shoved her sketches onto one of the side tables. He picked them up. “This. And this. They’re good, Lina.”

She took a deep breath as his gaze caught and held hers. “You’re hardly knowledgeable about fashion, Drew.”

“Maybe not. But I know what looks good on a woman. You’ve always dressed well. I think you have a keen eye for what makes a woman feel great about herself. And I’d bet you could do the same for a man. You’ve never lacked for confidence.” He gave her a wicked grin. “Hell, you even threw yourself at me back in college.”

Ugh. She couldn’t believe he’d brought that up. “Don’t remind me.”

He came back into the kitchen. “Do you know how much courage that took? It was a huge turn on, and it showed me how ballsy you were. You were just a girl back then. You’re a woman now. I don’t think anything can stop you from having whatever you want.” He brushed his knuckles against her cheek, forcing her to meet his gaze again.

She lifted her eyes to his and, with him so close, the heat that always seemed to emanate from him surrounded her, enveloping her in a haze of not-so-forgotten lust and longing.

Melting the Ice

“That’s a nice thing to say.” He’d always said nice things to her—when he wanted something. Which made her wonder exactly what it was that he wanted now.

She studied him, the woman she was now not nearly as naïve as the young girl she’d been back then.

“Exactly what are you after here, Drew? A repeat performance from college?” She pushed her chair back and stood, creating distance between the two of them. “Because if you are, I can assure you it’s not going to happen.”

She made sure to keep eye contact with him, so he understood clearly her meaning. “Never again. Ever.”

End of Excerpt

Melting the Ice

is available in the following formats:

Connected Books

Melting the Ice

Book 7 in the Play-by-Play Series

News & Reviews

Melting the Ice

“This series just hits it right with me. I know I'll always get a sexy story with some fun sports moments, not a lot of angst (which is a nice bonus) and Melting the Ice is no exception.”

Melting the Ice is a hot frenemies-to-lovers romance that will make readers cheer. Do not miss out on this one. Drew meets his match in the take-charge Carolina — both on and off the ice.”

“Fast-paced, with intense sex scenes and an intriguing jumble of the sports and fashion worlds, this steamy novel will satisfy those who like a little heat in their love stories.”

PASSION ON THE EDGE