Life has taught defenseman Bryant Taylor never to look back and never get serious about a woman. His ill, pregnant wife died while he was off playing an away game, leaving him—and both their families—heartbroken. Jokes and puck bunnies are his style now, and he’s sticking to it.
Gabriella Charbonnet has idolized her brother Emile since he rescued her from their violently abusive father when she was eleven—and he’s supported her ever since. He even agreed to play for the Sound so that she could apprentice as a pastry chef in nearby Beauford, Tennessee.
When Bryant and Gabriella find themselves thrown together at a society fundraiser, sparks fly. But Gabriella wants nothing to do with hockey players, aside from her brother, who just so happens to be Bryant’s best friend. The first rule of the bro code? Don’t mess with sisters.
by USA Today bestseller 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 Slap Shot: Bryant:
“Have you ever noticed how big Krystal Voleck’s feet are? Do you think she’s a clown?”
Gabriella Charbonnet almost knew that voice, but only almost. She turned from the Eat Cake pastry shop work counter to look into eyes every bit as blue as the crystallized pansies she had used to decorate the white chocolate and Swiss meringue buttercream cake she was working on.
Bryant Taylor had a big head, but you didn’t notice it so much because of those cobalt eyes and that choppy, chin-length hair that was at least twenty shades of blond, from French vanilla to honey caramel.
But what was he doing in Beauford? She doubted if he’d driven from Nashville for a cookie, though Eat Cake was the finest bakery in the state. Garden & Gun Magazine said so.
Bryant was a defenseman for the Nashville Sound and Gabriella’s brother’s teammate and best friend. As a goalie, Emile valued a good D-man above most things in life, and he said Bryant was one of the best in the NHL. Bryant had been on Hot Nashville’s most eligible singles list last year, probably in part because—big head, or not—he was absolutely walking physical perfection. It had been said that he was the best looking player on the team, maybe in all of professional hockey. Gabriella might have even said it herself. She particularly liked the little scar above his right eye that made it seem like the eyebrow was perpetually raised just a hair higher than the left one.
If Gabriella had a talent beyond turning sugar, butter, and flour into an edible masterpiece, it was the ability to get a date without having to do the asking. And she dated steadily but no one steady, hardly ever anyone more than twice—at least not since the pastry chef from Nashville she’d been involved with for about six months moved to New York. That had been almost two years ago.
Since then, it had been coffee with tourists, dinner with bakery supply reps, late night drinks with semi-somebody musicians—but no physical relationship. She wasn’t one for casual sex, but casual dating was easy. She smiled, they asked, and she said either yes or no. She might have worked her magic on Bryant if he were anything other than a hockey player.
She didn’t date hockey players, ever. For one thing, it would send Emile into big-brother-hell-no orbit. He didn’t ask much of her, but he did ask that, claiming that interfamily dating made for bad team dynamics.
That wasn’t the main reason she steered clear of hockey players, though. For all that Gabriella was a people pleaser and wanted to please Emile above all others, she would not let him dictate who she dated if she didn’t agree. But she did agree—emphatically.
Gabriella’s father had been a hockey player, though not a very good one even in the dead-end minor league he’d last played for. If watching him beat the hell out of Emile on a regular basis hadn’t been enough to make Gabriella’s mind up about getting involved with a hockey player, clutching a broken arm at the top of the stairs while her mother lay dead at the bottom would have certainly sealed the deal.
Intellectually, she knew that most hockey players left the violence and aggression on the ice, but she wasn’t taking any chances. She was never going to be at the bottom of those stairs, never going to have to have to be the shield between her child and a fist. She unconsciously rubbed her arm.
Bryant Taylor—Swifty, his teammates called him—smiled and winked, charm oozing from every inch of his being like it was his job to make the whole universe fall at his feet. But just because she wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot whisk didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the view.
And what a view.