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“Anyway, the Hat Trick rumor is a load of crap. I threw a party when I bought my house, and my cousin came because she wanted to be introduced to one of my teammates. If I’d known then what I know now, I never would’ve entertained the idea, incidentally. Another girl was interested in me, but she . . .” He shudders. “Let’s just say she wasn’t my type. Anyway, the third girl they accused me of sleeping with was my sister. She was underage, and she crashed the party. I was trying to get her under control. Some jerk took grainy pictures and posted them, and the myth of the Waters Hat Trick was born.”

“You never deny it in the interview.” It’s all hearsay, anyway. He can tell me whatever he wants; I can’t disprove it either way.

“No. I didn’t.” He drops his head with a sigh. “It was a bad move on my part. All it’s done is made me look like a total jerk.” He’s whisper quiet. “You have no idea what it’s like, Violet.”

“You’re right, I don’t. I can’t fathom why you would want to come across as a womanizer.”

“Did you know Buck took figure skating lessons?”

The abrupt change in topic throws me. I learned of this after Buck became my stepbrother. I found the idea of Buck in spandex hilarious and disconcerting. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“It’s standard, really. Most of the guys who play professional take figure skating to develop their skills on the ice.”

“It’s usually a year or two, right?”

He lowers his voice to make sure no one eavesdrops. “Usually. I was in figure skating for ten years.”

I almost choke on my latte. “Pardon?”

“I started when I was seven. My mother wanted me to be a figure skater. I picked up hockey when I was nine. I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I did both for a long time. I think she believed one day I’d change my mind and pick it over hockey. Until I was drafted into the minors, she was positive I’d make the Olympics.”

I feel bad for Alex. Why would his mother force him to do something he didn’t love for so long?

“I got razzed a lot for it, especially in high school. Teenagers aren’t always tolerant. The stereotypes were absurd.”

“And yet you choose to perpetuate a totally different one. I’m not seeing how that’s better.”

“I know.” His eyes are on the napkin he’s folding into some origami magic. I can tell this has caused him a lot of unnecessary frustration. While it pulls at my heartstrings, I don’t understand his motivation for the playboy angle.

“Within a matter of months I was drafted to the majors, and the press took notice of me. My years in figure skating came up. There were questions as to whether I could handle the demands. The tabloids got a hold of some footage and pictures of me in skating competitions. I had to work to prove myself on and off the ice. It wasn’t easy.” Alex looks up from the tiny bird he’s crafted out of his napkin. His eyes are soft, pleading for me to understand.

I try to imagine what it would’ve been like, but I’m not a hockey player or a figure skater, so I can’t relate.

“I started playing for the Flames . . . which led to more bad jokes.” He rolls his eyes. “So I did the one thing guaranteed to dispel any misconceptions, and it worked. I spent a lot of time at bars during the after parties surrounded by women. The media ate it up, and my agent even encouraged it. It got me a lot of coverage. At the time it was beneficial, even if it made me look like a player.”

He’s not lying; I’ve seen the pictures.

“The reputation followed me even after I was traded to Chicago. For a long time, I didn’t care. The rumors were easier to manage than some of the other crap. Until now, I haven’t had a reason to want to challenge the reputation.” Alex runs his fingers through his shaggy, unkempt hair. “It’s not an excuse, but can you understand where I’m coming from?”

I can. Judging from his torn expression and the way he can’t stop fidgeting, there’s more to this story, I’m sure. He’s made himself vulnerable by pouring his heart out in the middle of a crowded café. What’s more, I believe him. Teenage boys can be cruel, and men can be ruthless with each other. I’ve seen Buck in action with his friends. I can imagine the ribbing Alex would’ve taken as a rookie. It might have been all in fun where his teammates were concerned, but at eighteen it would be hard to take, especially with the media throwing it at him, too.

“It makes sense.” I poke at my cake with my fork, wary. “It doesn’t explain what you said to Buck about regulars.”


“Yeah. When you were at my place and Buck forgot his wallet.”

Alex’s eyes go wide, and the color drains from his face. “Oh God. This explains what happened at the bar after the game last week.” He expels a long breath. “I wasn’t sure what Buck knew, if anything at all, and we hadn’t had the chance to really talk. So we’re clear . . .” He leans in closer until his knee is touching mine. “There are no regulars. There never have been. I don’t care if Butterson knows what happened between us. I’ll gladly take a shit kicking from him if you’ll go out on a date with me.”


He touches my cheek with warm fingers. This immediately disconnects my brain from my body. All I want to do is lean forward and feel his lips on mine.

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