Excerpt You Rock My World
Book Three: The Blackwells of Crystal Lake
Travis Blackwell didn’t do babies—not if he could help it. Sure, they were cute in a red faced, squirming kind of way. But they were small. And delicate. And their damn necks were noodle soft. They made him nervous as hell and even though his brand-new nephew clearly fell into the cute category (he was a Blackwell after all) Travis had no interest in cradling the little guy.
At least, not until the kid was old enough to hold a hockey stick in his hand.
Content to watch his brother Hudson and wife Becca from across the hospital room, Travis leaned against the wall near the door and crossed his arms over his chest. He was trying to decide if he could duck out without causing a scene. His father and Darlene were on one side of the bed, while his other brother, Wyatt and his lady, Regan were on the other. Even Liam, Becca’s son from her first marriage, was sprawled across his mother’s feet, seemingly enamoured of his new brother.
All the adults were kicking up a fuss and Travis supposed he couldn’t blame them. Up until a year or so ago, he was pretty sure most folks around these parts thought none of the Blackwell men would settle down and have babies. Hudson had been AWOL for years, living and working in DC, while Wyatt had become the darling of the NASCAR circuit. Neither one had seen the love train heading their way, and in a short period of time, both men had fallen hard for the women in their lives. They’d settled down. Become respectable. Had babies. Technically, baby, but considering the goofy look on Wyatt and Regan’s faces they might not be too far from the state of baby-bliss currently enjoyed by the eldest Blackwell.
As for Travis? He had no interest in a baby or a wife, or any of that respectable stuff his brothers were into. He’d been there once and learned hard and fast that it wasn’t his gig. He’d been young and dumb, but hell, at least he’d been smart enough to know he wasn’t cut out for that kind of life. Smart enough to know that love didn’t always make things right. In fact, when the love was raw, and fragile, and wrapped up in hurt, it made things unbearable.
Wasn’t everyone’s story, but it sure as hell was his.
Thoughts dark with ghosts from his past, he straightened, restless. With one last glance at his family he slipped out the door. The corridor was empty and he managed to make his way out of the hospital without having to make unwanted, polite conversation, and for that he was grateful. He wasn’t in the mood for pretend—nothing harder than acting interested in what someone was saying when you didn’t give a damn.
Travis paused on the steps of the hospital and took a moment to enjoy the warmth that hit him, and to breathe it all in. Water. Fresh cut grass. Peonies. It smelled like home.
It was late June. After a nasty winter and a wet, cool, Spring, Crystal Lake was finally heating up. The air was fresh, the sky robin-egg blue, and the few clouds that dotted the atmosphere looked like small puffs of cotton candy
The sunshine was blinding and he yanked on the brim of his tired and frayed ball cap, pulling it lower over his forehead as he stepped down. A Yankees fan, his agent had given him the signed cap the night they’d won the World Series back in 2009, and even though it was falling apart, he couldn’t toss it. Not a chance in hell. He’d get one more season out of it and then retire it to his memorabilia case. He was that guy. The kind that liked familiar. The kind that liked his boat gentle, not rocked.
The kind of guy who stuck to routine.
Which was why he hated feeling out of sorts and on edge. He glanced around and scowled. It was this place. Crystal Lake. It wasn’t the same. Sure, there were remnants of the hometown he remembered—the high school, the old mill, the dam where he nearly drowned when he was five, Pot-o-hawk island. But there was a hell of a lot more change. New developments across the lake, condos, and housing, and a 36-hole golf course sitting smack dab in the middle of a fancy new clubhouse. Members only, he’d been told. What the hell was wrong with the old 18-hole executive by quarry?
“Not a damn thing,” he muttered, spying his truck.
Hell, even the city limit sign was all spiffy and new. Gone was the faded blue sign showcasing a guy fishing. Now it was slick, shiny and way too generic.
The development had brought a ton of new people to the area. His scowl deepened. He didn’t like it one bit. Some could argue he had no right to have an opinion either way. He hadn’t called Crystal Lake home in nearly ten years. Not since he’d signed his first NHL contract. Not since that last night. But still…
Travis shook off the memories and headed for the parking lot, not really sure where his head was at. He told Hudson he’d be home for a few days and had taken one of the cabins at the resort his brother owned and ran with Becca. They’d delayed the grand opening because of the baby and he pretty much had the place to himself. He could take out the boat, sit back with a cooler of beer and contemplate life. He could head to the gym and work out until he was fatigued. Or, hell, he could sit on the dock, do nothing and enjoy the last Cohiba, Marcel, one of the French-Canadian guys on his team had given him.
He reached into the pockets of his faded khaki shorts to retrieve his keys and aimed the fob at the shiny new Dodge Ram. It was then that he spied a woman a few rows over, talking animatedly with someone. From where he stood he could only see shoulders and the back of a head—a blonde head full of thick wavy hair that snaked out in the breeze. The long tendrils mesmerized Travis and his vision blurred because he watched them for so long. The woman nodded to whoever she was talking to and she bent forward slightly.
Something tugged at him. He wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but it brought him to a halt, and kept those keys frozen in his hands. His heart rate sped up. Palms became cold and clammy. And damn if he didn’t feel a bit lightheaded. Him. Travis Blackwell. The guy his teammates called ‘ice between the pipes’. Nothing cracked his exterior or made him falter. Nothing.
He shook his head and took a step back, eyes never leaving the woman. Was it her? Travis angled his head a bit, just as two male hands reached up and she bent even lower. She was kissing someone.
A stab of something hot and fierce shot through him and he had to look away because his composure was crumbling faster than a landslide. What the hell? First off, the chances that the woman less than twenty feet from him was Ruby Montgomery, were slim. And secondly, even if it was Ruby, why the hell was he all tied up over it? He hadn’t seen or talked to her in more years than he cared to remember, not since he’d signed their divorce papers. As far as each of them were concerned they were done. Their foolish, young, hot romance had gone nowhere fast. Just as his father had warned him it would. At the time he wasn’t sure what pissed him off more, the state of his marriage or the fact that John Blackwell had been right.
Travis had moved on, and the last he’d heard, she’d done the same. Taken the proceeds from her divorce settlement and disappeared.
He couldn’t help himself and glanced back in time to see the woman straighten and wave to whoever it was she’d been locking lips with. She tucked a long strand of hair behind her ear and turned toward the right wing of the hospital. It was in the opposite direction from where Travis stood, and like an idiot, he watched as she made her way through the parking lot. Long limbs draped in an elegant navy skirt that came to just above her knee, an understated, classy cream blouse, and a small sweater loose on her shoulders.
When she reached the steps leading up into the Deacon Memorial Wing, she paused and turned around as a gust of wind sent her hair flying once more. She rummaged through a large camel coloured leather bag, and shook her head, tugging on the loose waves that drifted across her face. They did nothing to hide the creamy complexion, delicate eyebrows and pillow soft lips. She turned back and waved to a nurse who’d exited the building.
That’s all it took for Travis to know. It was her. His Ruby. He swallowed hard, unable to tear his gaze away.
Ruby Montgomery chatted for a few seconds with the nurse and then disappeared inside the hospital.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood in the parking lot, clutching his key fob so tightly his knuckles were white, but it was long enough for the nurse to cross the parking lot and give him a strange look as she passed by. Travis tugged on the brim of his ball cap and unlocked his truck.
He sat in it for a long time, drumming his hands on the steering wheel and ignoring the text messages from his brother, Hudson, wondering where in hell he’d disappeared to. His heart was still beating a mile a minute and his scowl deepened. Not once had it crossed his mind he’d run into her. Not once.
His phone beeped again and a quick glance down told him one of his childhood pals, Jason Marsdale, was stopping by the Coach House for some beer and wings. He didn’t hesitate. He pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the south side of town. Travis was pretty sure booze wasn’t a good idea at the moment, but hell, spending the afternoon at the lake with his thoughts wasn’t either. When in doubt, a cold one would always suffice. Besides, maybe he could pump Jason for some info on life in Crystal Lake and all the things he’d missed. Namely, what had Ruby been up to? And why the hell was she back?
The Coach House was quiet when he arrived—his watch told him he had nearly an hour to go until Jason got off work. Travis slid onto the nearest barstool, happy to note this place hadn’t changed at all. Even the massive moose antlers still hung behind the bar. He grinned. He and Jason and a few of his hockey pals had stolen the damn thing, the night he’d been drafted to the minors. Of course, Salvatore, the owner of the Coach House, found out who the culprits were, and within hours Sheriff McVeen had been knocking down the Blackwell door.
Travis’s smile slowly faded. Sal was gone, taken by cancer the year before and Ruby…well, maybe that was a ghost he should just forget about.
“What can I get you?”
He glanced up and frowned, not recognizing the mountain of flesh behind the bar. The guy was easily six foot four, broad, and built like a Mack truck. The top of his bald head shone beneath the lights, and his long beard was impressive.
“Is Nash around?”
Mountain man looked annoyed. “He’s interviewing in the back.”
“Oh. Do you know when he’ll be done?”
Mountain man’s eyebrow rose half an inch and he didn’t bother to hide his annoyance. “If you figure out what you want, princess, let me know.”
Before Travis had a chance to order a beer the guy headed to the far end of the bar and took his time wiping the damn thing down.
“He’s friendly. Once you get to know him.”
A man sat a few stools away from Travis, nursing a brew. He looked a little too polished for these parts—his clothes were expensive and his hair had more product in it than a guy should, but hey, Travis wasn’t about to judge. He offered a half smile. “Thanks. I’m not used to all the new faces in town.”
The man chuckled. “Tiny has been here longer than I have.”
Travis’ eyebrow darted up and he chuckled. “That guy’s name is Tiny?”
“It’s what everyone around here calls him.”
The man in question came back with an ice-cold draft and set it down in front of Travis. “Do you want a menu?”
“Nope. I’m good.”
Travis took a long gulp of beer and settled back in his chair. He struck up a conversation with his neighbour, a guy named Chance McDougal. Now, in Travis’ books, that was one hell of a moniker, but again, the no judging thing came into play. The guy was from Texas and had played division one college golf, so he couldn’t be all that bad. He’d hoped for a future in the PGA until a car accident had taken away some of the mobility of his left hand.
Luckily, he still had skills and was now settled in at the new Golf and Country Club across the lake. As their new Pro, McDougal, was looking to set down roots. He’d met a girl, fallen in love, and his path was set. Good for him.
Travis let him talk and was nearly done his beer. He was okay keeping his business to himself, and was content to listen to the man.
“So, you’re from town, I take it?” Chance asked, checking his watch and reaching into his back pocket for his wallet.
Travis nodded. “I am.”
“I didn’t catch your name.”
Travis hadn’t offered it up. McDougal obviously didn’t follow hockey, and that was okay by him.
“Blackwell.” He glanced up as Tiny scooped up his empty mug and moved to fill it.
“Blackwell.” Chance got up from his seat and tossed a few bills onto the bar. His phone buzzed, most likely a text message, and he glanced toward the door. “I know that name.”
Travis wasn’t surprised. His family had deep roots in Crystal Lake.
Travis shrugged and accepted another mug from Tiny. He didn’t get a chance to answer the man because the door to the bar opened and a woman stepped inside. She was on her phone, but her voice cut through Travis like a knife through butter. He turned around fully, mouth catching flies, eyes wide in disbelief. Was the universe trying to tell him something? Did he need to be hit over the head twice in one day?
Ruby walked toward the bar, forehead furrowed in concentration, white teeth biting the edge of her lips. She wasn’t happy about something, Travis could see it, and she was unaware of his presence. She walked toward Chance, and pecked his cheek, nodding at whatever was being said on the other end of the phone, and murmuring, ‘hey baby,” to Dougal.
Chance was looking at Travis.
Travis was looking at Ruby.
And Nash walked in at that exact moment. He settled in to watch the event unfold, and would later be overheard telling more than a few guys that Travis hadn’t seen it coming.
“I knew I recognized the name,” Chance said. “You’re Ruby’s ex-husband.”
Ruby’s head shot up and she froze, her hazel eyes wide with surprise. “Trav?” she mouthed, sliding her cellphone back into her purse.
Chance moved closer to Ruby, as if protecting her from someone. That really got Travis’ goat, because first off, she didn’t need protecting from anybody. If he knew her at all, he’d at least know that. And secondly, Travis could break McDougal. Easily.
Like a twig.
Travis shook his head, his brain now focusing on what his eyes had already seen. Her hand was on Chance’s forearm, and the guy was all up her business. He snorted. Seriously? The guy was plaid shorts and fucking pink collared shirts. Christ, he probably got regular pedicures and facials. Instant, red-hot dislike coursed through Travis and he got off his stool. This punk ass golf softie was in love with his Ruby?
“You’re banging my wife?”
The fist came from nowhere and sent him reeling. When he gave his head a shake and cleared the stars from his eyes, Ruby stood inches from him, chest heaving, cheeks flushed, and looking hotter than anything he’d ever seen before. The air literally cracked with electricity. Friction. It was sexual. Primal. Full on anger. He would take all of it and more, because truth be told he hadn’t felt this alive since…well, since Ruby.
“Who I bang is none of your business,” she spat, eyes flashing. “And the name is Ruby in case you’ve forgotten. Don’t ever call me your wife again. Don’t even call me your ex.”
She turned on a dime and headed for the door, while Travis rubbed his sore chin and watched Chance follow her outside like the good little puppy dog he was.
“You sure as hell know how to stir things up, Blackwell.” Nash shook his head from the other side of the bar. “I’ll get you some ice. You’re gonna need it.”
“No shit,” Travis muttered, sitting his ass back down on the stool. Ruby Montgomery was still as volatile as he remembered. Still as infuriating and quick to anger. She still rubbed him the wrong way, and apparently, he did the same. Fights were second nature to them. It’s how they communicated. But the making up had always been hot as hell.
He accepted the ice from Nash.
“You were a dick,” Nash said.
“She’s pissed.” Again, Travis had to agree.
A slow grin swept across his face. It seemed as if some things hadn’t changed after all.