When Emerson Tyler’s unrequited high school crush crashed into her first group meeting of the DSN’s social media department, it was strange to say the least. When she learned that her crush wasn't as “unrequited” as she’d always believed, things got even stranger. On the day Bryce Nordlinger had crushed her teenaged heart—not to mention ruined her reputation in order to save his lady-killer status—she’d sworn that she’d never trust him or any man ever again. And she had no intention of breaking that oath, no matter how much more tempting he’d become as a grown up NHL star.
Bryce had always wanted Em to be more than the smart, snarky high school girl who helped him with his terrible English essays. But he’d been busy burnishing his rep as future jock stud, and when his fellow hockey bros caught him skating with her alone in a deserted rink, he’d chosen the easiest path—one that left her hurt in a way he never thought he’d be able to heal. His complete shock at seeing her all grown up and more beautiful than ever in the meeting room at DSN, morphed into a steel-plated resolve. He would win her back and make up for the mess he’d made of her high school senior year, while dragging the once-proud Detroit hockey program out of the dumpster fire and back to prominence at the same time.
He pressed both hands against the door, fighting the urge to yell, curse, and kick the damn thing down. Not bad, he thought. I’ll have to tell the team therapist that I might have my anger issues under control. “Em,” he said, louder this time. “Open up.” He jiggled the door handle.
Still nothing. “God damn it.” He knocked hard, shook the handle, and then stopped when he heard something. “All I need to know is that you’re not dead. Can I get a sign of life?”
“Go away,” she said.
“Um, it’s my house, and my bathroom, so … no. But I will bust the door down if I have to.” He figured it wouldn’t take much.
“Please, leave me alone,” she said before the first sob floated through the door. But he heard the lock turn, so he eased the door open and found her crouched on the floor, leaning against the tub, arms wrapped around her legs, which revealed more of the panties area than he felt comfortable seeing. He stood, unsure of how to proceed. She raised her head, showing her makeup-streaked, still beautiful face. “Why are you here?”
“It’s my house, remember?”
“I mean here, in my life again, you giant…”
“Hero?” he asked, trying to pull her to her feet. “I did save you from pitching headfirst down a stairwell.”
“Fuck you, you … you…”
“Calm down, already. I know what I am. Now let’s get you back on the couch. You need to sleep this off. It’s the only solution. Trust me, I know.”
“I hate you,” she said, letting him tug her to her feet. “I fucking hate your fucking stupid guts.”
“Yeah? Take a number. Come on.”
She flopped against him when he pulled her away from the bathroom, her damp face wetting his shirt. For a split second, he held on to her, wishing like hell that their situation was different. That he hadn’t been such a desperate, attention-seeking teenaged man whore. That he simply would’ve allowed himself to be something different all those years ago.
He squeezed her tighter, loving how perfectly her small form fit against his. A sensation he’d felt once, briefly, the moment he’d made a choice, one that had kept his reputation in place and ruined hers.