But their successes never went to their head.
That was a testament to our parents.
Our mom and dad kept all of us grounded, so because of that, I was grounded. Humble. The most baggage I ever had to deal with came from my best friend, because while my family wasn’t messed up, his was. His family was seriously fucked up, though his little brother was super fucking rad.
But all that said, general life stuff, I was a laid-back, easygoing guy.
Except with hockey.
Everything went out the window when it came to hockey.
On the ice, I killed. I was a fucking animal once my skates hit the ice, and the same competitive nature was in my family, too. At a soccer game, my mom was quiet and cheering just like everyone else. At my rink, my mom led the cheers in, “YOU FUCKING KILLLLLL HIM, CUT! WE DIDN’T NAME YOU CUT FOR SHITS AND GIGGLES! YOU FUCKING MAKE YOUR NAMESAKE PROUD, CUTLER RYDER!”
The whole team loved her, but there was always, literally always, a stunned response from the fans when Hockey Mama Alice Ryder came out. That part of my mom was what I inherited and what was coming to the surface now and as my girl shifted…that’s when I saw the guy.
I wanted to take his head off, now. Right fucking now.
“Hey. Oh. Wow. Whoa. Okay.”
I started forward, but Hendrix hopped in front of me. He was blinking, a bewildered look on his face. His drink was gone. Where’d that go? So was mine. I didn’t care, but his hands were up and he kept shaking his head.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this, never seen you act like this, but get yourself under control. You get the same look when you’re trying to piss off an enforcer. Now. Calm down before you head over there—”
I didn’t let him finish whatever the fuck he was about to say. I was gone.
Loved Hendrix, but I was outta there.
The guy was standing by my girl. She’d learn. So would he. Everyone in the room would learn. I was about to claim her in a big fucking way.
I was almost there.
The guy—what the fuck was he wearing?
He was drunk. Could see that right off the bat. His face was flushed, sweaty. His eyes were dilated. He was waving his hand around, an emptied glass in his grasp, and he was moving in on her with each step he was taking. His eyes were shifting all over the place.
I eased back, just a bit.
Her head was down, locked in place. I could see her side profile, and she was biting her lip.
Not the lip. That was mine to bite, not hers.
Those were thoughts I’d have to express later because now was not a socially acceptable time to broadcast my intentions, and I had plenty. A shit-ton of intentions when it came to her, her body, her pussy, her mouth, her breasts, her legs. Her. Just her.
I wasn’t dumb. I was reacting from some inner emotions that I’d never tapped into before. I’d never had a reaction like this, and I’d seen—and been with—some seriously hot women. Came with the job when we partied with supermodels at times or were asked to pose for photo shoots to raise awareness for a cause.
But this woman, this reaction wasn’t just physical, though I didn’t need to pour more gasoline on that flame. It was blazing and about to take down the entire building, so I needed a fucking second.
I took it.
I stopped, reaching for water from Alex, another teammate who had also noticed me. His eyebrows were sky high, and his eyes shot past me. I knew Hendrix was there, and when I kept moving, I knew Alex had fallen in line behind me. They were there to keep me from getting handcuffs slapped on my wrists because they both knew I had a temper inside of me, and when it was switched, I never cared about the devastation I was about to lay out.
Then I was at their little gathering…and she wasn’t looking at me.
I was here. Right beside her. No way in hell she didn’t know I was here. I saw her face get tighter, her body more rigid, as I came over. She kept biting her lip and I kept aching to touch my hand there, wipe my finger over her bottom lip and dislodge its hold.
She suppressed a shiver.
I saw that and good. She wasn’t as unaffected by me as she tried to appear.
I saw the shiver travel down her spine, and she gulped, still studiously avoiding my gaze.
The guy, on the other hand, was having the opposite reaction.
Mouth open. Eyes bugging out. He almost dropped his empty glass that he’d been waving around moments before.
Alex moved around the group, chuckling, as he reached out and took it from the guy’s slack fingers. The guy didn’t notice. He was riveted by me.
“You—you’re—whooooooaaa. It’s Cut Ryder, Shy. Cut The Reaper Ryder.”
I stifled an inward groan. There was a reason I’d been given the team’s mascot name as my nickname…all because of a certain game where I’d let this same anger out on a few opposing players. Like, five of them. The only one who hadn’t gotten it from me had been the goalie, and that was because I’d been hauled off to the box by then.
He thrust a hand out. “I’m a big, big, big fan of yours. Well, the whole team, actually.” He was still holding his hand out. I had no intention of shaking it, not because I was being rude or because he was in my girl’s space, but because it was sweaty and I could tell just from eyeing it. He gestured to her with his other hand. “I was just telling Cheyenne that I can’t wait for your guys’ game on Sunday. Your whole team is coming to where I work for a couple days soon. Cheyenne works with me.” He noticed Alex and jolted. “Whoa!” Then Hendrix. “Double whoa. Cheyenne, are you seeing these guys?” He whispered the last question, and by this time, I was locked in.
Cheyenne. Her name was Cheyenne.
The guy ceased to exist for me, but she didn’t. She was fighting the pull between us.
I could see the fight on her face. A bunch of emotions were shifting there.
Fear—like a gut punch to my chest.
Amazement right after. Pride on my end at seeing that.
Then, fear again. I was being checked in the glass all over again, and I had no back-up.
“Babe,” that word whispered from me before I could stop myself.
Her head turned in my direction, but her eyes didn’t. They were laser-focused somewhere lower on my face. She wouldn’t meet my gaze. What the fuck?
I heard the guys fall silent, all hearing what I just laid out in that one word.
Then, Alex was pulling the other guy away, for his safety if he was smart, and I closed in, reaching out.
I touched her arm, and she was paralyzed as I felt a tremor rush through her.
“No, not like that.” I moved in even closer, bending my head. Her front was almost brushing my front and I could feel her trembling. I lowered my voice. “Is that because of me? You’re scared of me?”
I had to be smart.
I didn’t want to scare her away.
She shook her head, just the slightest bit.
I moved my hand to her shoulder, but I kept my other one free. I didn’t want her to feel like I was trapping her, but hell. I wanted to. So bad. I wanted to tug her out of here, take her home, and lay claim so she’d never want to feel another guy inside her.
“You know who I am?”
Another nod, but nothing else. Her throat was working, moving up and down. Whatever was going on with her, she couldn’t speak.