Buy the Book

Other Books in the Series

Read the Excerpt



Game Seven of the Second Round of the Playoffs

Three minutes were left in the third period. New York was ahead three to two.

I wasn’t ending my rookie season this way. Not on your ever-loving life. My teammates felt the same. Every one of us wore the same determined, take-no-prisoners expression.

Jason “Wildman” Wilder, a defenseman on the third line with me, wasn’t so wild during the third period. He was wearing down, his movements sluggish, but he managed to steal the puck. It’d been a physically grueling game, and we were all feeling the strain on our legs and our hearts. I reached deep, knowing we were toward the end of our shift, and powered toward Wildman. He shot the puck my way, and I took off with it, travelling the length of the ice toward the net. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Wilcox skate opposite me in a perfect position for an open shot when the goalie shifted toward me. I made a split-second decision and didn’t pass the puck. Instead, I forced my way to the net and slapped the puck toward the goal. I knew my shot wasn’t going in before the puck left my stick.

The puck bounced off the goalie’s pads. After a mad scramble for it, New York had possession, and my shift was over.

I should’ve passed it and not been a hotdogger driven by my own glory instead of the good of the team. Not the time to dwell on my mistakes. We all make them, and as a rookie, I’d had my fair share. This game wasn’t over yet.

I leaned forward on the bench. My body followed every move my half brother, Gage “Ziggy” Ziegler, made as he skated like a madman down the ice with the puck. Despite how I felt about him, he was one talented MFer on the ice. But then again, everyone at this level was crazy skilled with loads of talent, while at times I felt as if I barely kept my head above water. I’m guessing all rookies went through these moments of doubt. I’d made it this far my rookie season and hadn’t been sent back down to a farm team after I’d been traded to the Sockeyes. I guess that said something.

Ziggy lasered a pass to Axel Vanderbuel, who took the puck and weaved past a defender before passing to Easton. Big E, as most of us called him, aimed a laser toward the net.

And missed by a fraction.

Another shift change happened.

The first line took the ice again. I glanced at the clock. Precious seconds ticked away as the two sides traded the puck back and forth. Our captain, Isaac “Ice” Wolfe, wasn’t having it. He turned on the speed and stole the puck right out from under the New York forward’s nose. Lester didn’t notice the puck was no longer in his possession until Ice had moved it out of range.

Cave was waiting. He might seem like a big, lumbering country boy off the ice, but on the ice, he was sheer poetry. I’d studied him intently since I’d joined this team mid-season, hoping to absorb some of his magic. He powered toward the net just as our captain slapped the puck his way. Cave had a shot. He took it and missed by a hair.

The entire bench groaned, including me. We pounded the boards with our sticks and shouted encouragement, as Smooth recovered the puck and sent another shot sailing toward the net.


The puck hit the goalie’s shoulder pads, took a bad bounce, and landed in front of him on the ice, where he quickly covered it.

The buzzer sounded.

The game was over.

Heads down, the first liners skated toward the bench while the New York crowd erupted. We filed onto the ice for the ceremonial post-game handshake, a hockey tradition I often wished wasn’t. I’d much rather sulk in the locker room than display good sportsmanship right about now.

So fucking close.

I skated after my teammates and did the right thing by shaking the lucky bastards’ hands.

My rookie season was over. I clomped to the locker room with my teammates and slumped on a bench, too tired to start the process of shedding my hockey uniform and skates. I’d given it everything I had. Left it all out on the ice. But my everything hadn’t been enough.

I glanced around, wondering how many of these guys would be back next season. As was the way of hockey, we’d lose players to free agency, injury, retirement, and trades. The only constant in hockey was that nothing was predictable. And the following year, Portland would have a new expansion team, so there’d be an expansion draft and all the drama that caused.

I’d already played on two pro teams my rookie season and didn’t want to be one of those players who never had a home and was traded around from team to team for his entire career. I needed to make enough of a mark that the Sockeyes would want me back.

A guy never knew.

Bryce Wilcox, my closest friend on the team, was thinking the same thing. I saw it in his worried expression and furrowed brow. I caught his eye and was surprised when he scowled at me.

“You should’ve passed me the puck. I had a clear shot.” His anger was palpable. Not too many guys liked Bryce. I was one of the few. I didn’t mind his brashness or his overconfidence and conceit. He wasn’t a bad guy if given half a chance.

“I fucked up,” I said honestly, choosing not to defend the indefensible.

“You sure as fuck did.” We both turned toward the angry voice. Ziggy perched his hands on his hips and glared at me, which was his usual expression whenever he saw me.

I shrugged, not wanting to get into an altercation with him when tempers were already frayed.

“You’re a puck hog. You’re selfish. Your behavior hurts the team, not that you notice you’re even on a team.”

My blood boiled. How fucking dare that asshole attack me. “You didn’t exactly shine out there tonight,” I spat back, more hurt than I’d ever let on. At one time, Ziggy had been my idol, not that he’d ever know.

I’d come to the Sockeyes with the hope of reconciling with my family, mainly my secret half brother and teammate, Ziggy. Only nothing had worked out as planned, and I hadn’t managed to mend any fences with him. Not that I blamed him for not trusting me when I hadn’t proven trustworthy in the past, but I’d been a scared, angry teenager, and he hadn’t been much older. My only anchor in life had been ripped away, and I’d been put in a strange situation I’d had zero control over. I’d made a mess of it. All of it. And I’d spent the last few years avoiding the bitter truth and denying my part in all this.

I lunged at Ziggy, who in turned lunged at me. Good thing for us that hockey players have fast reflexes, because we were being pulled backward before we’d even had a chance to throw any punches. Kaden, Bryce, Axel, and Steele held me back, and I struggled against their restraints. Just one punch would go a long way to purging some of my pent-up frustration with my asshole brother. Ziggy fought against the guys holding him back. Our eyes locked, and the pure disgust in his expression set me back a bit.

Ice, our captain, stepped forward, pissed as hell and ready to chew some ass. “Okay, dickheads. That’s enough. We lost a tough game. Blaming doesn’t change the outcome. We’re all teammates here, and we win as a team and lose as a team. I’ve warned you about leaving your personal issues outside this building. I don’t plan on warning you again. You have several months to work out whatever the hell is going on. We’ll be back fresh and ready to attack next September.” His hard expression softened somewhat, and he turned to address the entire room. “I’m proud of us. We battled. We never gave up. And we’re on the verge of being a damn good team.” Ice smiled a very rare smile. Satisfied we weren’t going to kill each other, he nodded to the guys holding us back. They released us, though they stood warily nearby. I turned away from Ziggy to my locker space.

“Andy?” Ice stepped close to me so no one else heard his next words. With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I gave him my full attention. Ice didn’t talk a lot, and when he did, he usually had something epic to say.

“Your teamwork could use some improvement, but it’s common for rookies to overdo things in order to prove their worth.”

I stared at him, attempting to keep my expression neutral even though I felt as if I’d eaten a bad batch of potato salad.

The team captain thought I was hogging the puck. I let that sink in. “I, uh, I’m sorry,” I said lamely.

“No need to be sorry. Just work on improving your team play in the off-season. Take some time off first, think about things, watch some video, and pay attention to missed scoring opportunities for your teammates when you’ve had control of the puck.”

I nodded, feeling like an absolute shit. I’d been blind. I hadn’t seen how my play had affected my linemates and the entire team. Ice gave my arm a squeeze and an encouraging smile. I managed a smile I didn’t feel while my entire world view of myself caved in around me.

“I guess we’re now in the off-season. What’re you going to do?” Bryce asked me after Ice walked off. I appreciated that he didn’t ask me what Ice wanted, but I had a feeling he knew. Everyone knew but me. I was the worst kind of teammate. A selfish puck hog.

I shrugged, my mind elsewhere. I hadn’t given the off-season much thought in fear I’d jinx the playoffs. “You have plans?”

“I don’t know. Maybe Hawaii for a week or so.”

“Yeah, sounds great.” Hawaii didn’t appeal to me. Right now, I wanted to crawl in a hole and lick my wounds. Maybe disappear in a dark Washington forest or something.

Bryce sank down on the bench in front of his locker and ran his hand through his surfer-boy blond hair. I didn’t think he was a surfer or even from Cali.

“Yeah, Hawaii with all those bikini-clad bodies just looking for a hookup.”

I rolled my eyes and sat down on a bench, unlacing my skates.

I needed to get away. Clear my head. Develop some kind of plan on how to fix this mess, and planning was so not one of my strengths. Disappearing in the wilderness was looking better and better.

“I think I’ll buy an RV and go camping,” I blurted out, not really thinking this through.

“Camping?” Bryce frowned. “Where?”

“Washington has tons of campgrounds. I don’t know. I’ll wing it. Wherever I end up.”

“You ever camped before?” Bryce’s skeptical expression irritated me. Of course I’d never camped before. My family hadn’t been like that, even though I’d longed for that bit of normalcy. I’d dreamed of family camping trips in the summer on a lake, the smell of a campfire, the taste of hot dogs, all that shit. It’d been one of my childhood fantasies that’d never come true.

“Nah, but it can’t be that hard.”

“Fuck, you’re crazy. All those bugs and dirt and stuff.”

“Real men camp,” I shot back.

“Real men play hockey,” he countered, and I ignored him. I was already imagining myself in front of a roaring fire, just me, my dog, Bones, and nature. Nobody around to mess with my head. It’d be just what the doctor ordered.

“Beer and dinner cooked over an open fire. What could be better?” I lied.

There were a lot of things that could be better, like winning this game tonight and advancing to the conference finals, but I didn’t voice my negative thoughts.

“What’re you two talking about?” Cave joined us, always up for a party and not wanting to miss out.

“Andy’s going camping,” Bryce blurted out.

“Camping? You?” Cave threw back his head and hooted like a fucking dumb shit.

“What’s so funny about that? Just because you were born in the woods and raised by wolves.” I glared at him, expecting a smart comeback or at least an insult or two. Instead, Cave frowned and looked away. I’d hit a sore spot and damned if I knew why.

“You’ve gone camping before, haven’t you?” I asked Cave, fully expecting him to be an expert in the great outdoors.

“Uh, no.”

We gaped at him with open mouths at this surprising information.

“Have you?” he said.

“No, but I’ll fake it.”

“Won’t be the first time,” Bryce muttered, leaving me to wonder if he was referring to my hockey expertise or what. This game today had me doubting everything and everyone.

A getaway in the woods was just what I needed.