Ambitious, smart, and straightlaced, Nashville Sound forward Jarrett MacPherson is determined to walk in the footsteps of his All-American hockey-playing grandfather. He prides himself on doing the right thing above all, with ethics so sharp they could cut the heart out of a saint.
Hard-working Merry Sweet toils by day in a paper shop and coffee bar in Sound Town and at night at the arena, cleaning, selling concessions, and taking tickets. Jarrett notices and admires Merry’s determination and believes her when she says she needs money for law school, even offering to help solve her financial problems.
When she refuses him, his esteem for her only grows. But when the public catches wind of their budding relationship, a surprising secret from Merry’s past comes to light. Now, Jarrett must decide if he’ll let his image take precedence over his heart and cost him the chance at something perfectly real.
by Alicia Hunter Pace
Sensuality Level: Sensual
Stephanie Jones and Jean Hovey write together as Alicia Hunter Pace. Stephanie lives in Jasper, Alabama. She is a native Alabamian who likes football, civil war history, and people who follow the rules. She is happy to provide a list of said rules to anyone who needs them. Jean lives in Decatur, AL, with her husband in a hundred-year-old house that always wants something from her. She likes to cook but has discovered the joy of Mrs. Paul’s fish fillets since becoming a writer.
An excerpt from High Stick: Jarrett:
There were three bars at this party, and Merry’s was one of two in the ballroom. She’d been relieved not to be assigned to the parlor downstairs, because she figured the older set would hang out there where it was quieter and they’d be a cocktail crowd. She’d guessed that the younger folks would be thirsty from dancing and lean toward beer and wine. That had been mostly true, with only a few straight bourbons, vodka rocks, and rum and Cokes thrown in.
“Scotch and water, please,” said a male voice.
Another easy one. Good, excellent, in fact. Having been raised by a fire-and-brimstone, fundamental, teetotaling preacher, Merry had had little exposure to alcohol until college, when she had found she disliked the taste. After taking this job, she’d thought she would be able to study up on how to make cocktails, but there were so many and she’d had final exams. The best she’d been able to do was memorize a few basic drinks—martini, margarita, daiquiri—and stash a bartender’s guide under the bar. But there was no need for the book to mix plain old scotch and water. She reached for the Glenfiddich and looked up to meet the bright gray eyes of the scotch and water drinker.
Some might have said those eyes were silver—pretty, but they put Merry in the mind of a vampire. The color was at odds with his caramel-streaked brown hair. Good-looking, though. He had the kind of look her father would have approved of—short hair, clean-shaven, and no visible tattoos. He wore a flower in the lapel of his tuxedo jacket, so he must have been a groomsman. Judging from his size and age, he was probably a teammate of the groom. Not that she watched hockey, despite working most home games. On the rare occasions when she had a break from fetching and toting for people who could afford to sit in an ice suite, Merry studied.
“Rocks?” she asked.
He looked slightly amused. “No. No rocks. Thank you.” She got the feeling she’d said something wrong. She’d been proud of herself for calling ice rocks, thought it sounded bartender-ish. Did people not say that anymore? She poured the glass half full of scotch and finished filling it with water.
“There you are.” She handed him his drink along with a cocktail napkin embossed with Amy and Emile. December 22. If he’d looked amused before, he looked slightly horrified now. “Is that not all right? This is the only brand of scotch we have.”
“No. That’s very good scotch. It’s fine.” He took a sip, but he didn’t move on. “Do I know you from somewhere?”
That could only mean one thing, since it was unlikely that he would have looked up from the ice during a game to see her serving nachos and beer.
He’d seen the online topless calendar. It had been out of date for almost two full years now—not that anyone looked at it to schedule appointments. It had been six months since anyone had recognized her from it, and she’d begun to think it was behind her. But it looked as though it was going follow her for the rest of her life—and she should have been prepared for that. She’d had all the information. The online calendar, put out by the most widely read men’s magazine in the country, sold millions of copies every year. They’d told her that before she’d posed, had been proud of it, but she’d fooled herself into thinking no one would ever recognize her. Why, why, why, had she posed bare breasted for that damned calendar?
Never mind. She knew the reason and it wasn’t even a good one. She hadn’t needed the money to pay for an operation for a relative and, since she’d had a great job and full-ride private scholarship at the time, certainly not for tuition. Life had been good, but had it been good enough for her? No. She’d wanted to go on a stupid skiing trip with some rich classmates who turned out to be assholes, so she’d posed to earn the money thinking no one who mattered would ever find out. And they hadn’t for a long time. It was May, right after the close of her 1L year, when the wrong person had found out, and she had paid with her job and scholarship. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It wouldn’t have been worth it even if the ski trip had been the acme of all trips, but it had been nothing short of misery.
At least the pictures had not become mainstream common knowledge and no one back in Beaver Crossing knew about them. They didn’t even know she’d had to take last year off to regroup and save money or that she was in the middle of her second, not third, year.
But occasionally, someone like this good-looking maybe-hockey-player would recognize her. She knew the drill. Pretty soon, he would realize where he’d seen her and react in one of two ways—depending on if he was single. She glanced at his hand. No ring. Still, he could have a girlfriend. He would either pretend he’d been mistaken or he’d leer at her and make some disparaging remark.
He continued to study her. Finally, he nodded, like he was almost remembering.