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Dirty Score, A Rough Riders Hockey Novel(10)

By:Joan Swan

Only to be stood up at the last minute. Worse, to be stood up so Cody could take an older girl, a prettier girl, a more popular girl.

Mia’s chest still pinched, remembering the humiliation. Still remembered crying all day, sure she’d never be able to show her face at school again. Sure she’d lose all her friends and be the laughing stock for the next two years.

And then of Rafe showing up at her door, in a suit he’d borrowed from Tate’s father, carrying tickets to the prom he’d bought with money he’d earned working at the skating rink. All after he and Tate had been swearing off prom for months. The fact that Tate had been pissed he had to spend prom night alone instead of hanging with his best friend confirmed it had been Rafe’s idea, not Tate’s or Joe’s.

“Dammit,” she said softly, a smile lifting her lips despite her best efforts to stay angry at Rafe for more recent events.

“What’s wrong?” Cole asked without taking his eyes off the television.

She didn’t even bother answering, because Cole wasn’t paying any attention. She heaved a sigh and pushed sweet memories of Rafe to the background. That had been a long time ago. He’d been a good friend. A best friend—as best as a boy could be. And then, last year, without warning, he’d dumped her friendship like a hot rock. After all her attempts to piece it back together, she had to admit it was over. A thing of the past. She had to let the nostalgia and her feelings for Rafe go. And she had to do it now, before she tried to make another hard transition.

So she typed: What happened to getting laid?

Not in a million years with this chick.

Too bad. My options are looking rather promising. This puck head is way hotter than Cody Matthews ever was.

She pushed to her feet and leaned into the bar, which also put her closer to Cole.

Kilbourne? Promising? How much have you had to drink? You could do so much better. And you shouldn’t be fucking Tate’s teammates. Especially not during the playoffs.

God, it was always hockey. Hockey, hockey, hockey. Mia loved her brother, she loved hockey, and she respected Tate’s and Rafe’s careers. It was one of the many reasons she’d never made a move on Rafe. But she was done living her life around Tate and Tate’s hockey. It just didn’t work for her. And it didn’t have to work for her anymore.

Thanks for the lecture, she texted back. Find your own escape.

Mia. Please.

Excitement built low in her belly. Excitement and…something else. Something sad. Regret? Guilt? Loss? She’d used the fantasy of Rafe as an escape for a long time. The way one of her coworkers had dreamed of traveling through Europe, Mia had dreamed of being loved by Rafe. She’d used the thought as a light at the end of the tunnel. Her fantasies were a way to get through a boring day or a packed subway ride or the stress of meeting a deadline. She might have wished it would happen, but in her heart of hearts, she’d known it never would.

And then Sam. Sam and his “If I didn’t know that you worked too much to be seeing someone else, I’d swear you were in love with another man. It’s like your body’s with me, but your mind and your heart live somewhere completely different. If there’s someone in your past you haven’t told me about, you have to get over him, because there’s no room for anyone else.”

Mia had instantly realized that Sam had been talking about Rafe without knowing it.

She’d also instantly known how utterly ridiculous it was to allow one-sided feelings for a friend hinder her adult relationships. And as soon as she proved that to herself, she’d be free. She’d just have to find another fantasy to dwell on to get through rough times.

She shook off the nerves and realigned herself with her goal, then texted Rafe. Seriously?

SERIOUSLY, came back immediately.

Mia took her sweet time straightening, then turned and scanned the restaurant, purposely skipping over him several times before she finally let her gaze settle on Rafe.

Until now, she’d only taken quick, sidelong glances. And for the last year, the closest look she’d gotten of Rafe had been video clips on television or a rare postgame interview. Now, even from where she sat, as soon as their eyes met, she felt the solid snap of their connection in her belly.

The warm sizzle both thrilled and angered her. She’d always downplayed her feelings as a lingering schoolgirl crush. But there was nothing lingering or schoolgirlish about the desire that flared white-hot low in her body or the softening in her chest. These feelings were present and passionate. And just like every other time she’d considered confronting him over the years, the sweetness she felt for him bubbled to the surface, blurring her good sense.