“If I were you, I would take advantage of this. Within a few minutes, I’m likely to start hating you again,” I teased, even though I wouldn’t, and never truly had.

“There’s the Cranky Campbell I know and love. Stop making me think you like me. It’s weird.”

We both laughed, took a drink of our sodas, distracted ourselves. At least that was what I was doing.

“Since we’re playing nice, maybe now’s the time to tell you you’re amazing with him—your brother.”

I shrugged. “You don’t have to say that. He’s family. I love him. There’s nothing that makes what I do amazing. I’m just a big brother to my favorite person. The last thing I deserve is praise for that.”

Ash was quiet, watching me, staring at me with those shadowy eyes of his that I thought held more secrets than I’d ever given him credit for…that had more depth to them than I’d ever let myself see. Finally, after what felt like an eternity stretched between us, he said, “I think you deserve a whole lot of things you don’t see, Beau Campbell.”

My breath caught, a mass forming in my throat. It took me a moment to be able to speak around it. “That’s my thing.”

“What?” he asked.

“Calling you by your first and last name.”

Ash chuckled. “My bad.”

“Thank you.”

Ash shrugged. “Nothin’ to thank me for. And he’s amazing too.” He nodded toward the arcade.

“He is. I’m so damn proud of him. He takes classes at the college, works with Mom. He’s smart, kind, happy, fun as hell, and passionate about the world around him. It’s impossible not to be in awe of him.”

Ash’s eyes darkened, his brows pulling together as two small wrinkles formed above them. His stare held mine with an intensity I couldn’t explain or deny, and if I hadn’t felt it, I’d probably laugh if someone else said they experienced it.

“You’re looking at each other weird.” The sound of Kenny’s confused voice snapped me out of my Ash-trance. I’d seen many people fall into it before and never return. Despite our truce, or the fact that I was going to be an adult where he was concerned, that wasn’t a place I could allow myself to get lost.

“That’s because Ash is weird,” I told Kenny.

“No, he’s not,” he replied.

“Yeah, no, I’m not!” He raised his voice, feigning offense. He was so theatrical and always had been.

“And the Oscar goes to…”

“Do you really think I’m that good?” Ash asked, and I laughed again. Damn it. He’d gotten me. The same way every person who’d ever crossed his path became enamored with him, I was officially a member of the Ashton Carmichael fan club.

Which basically meant I was fucked.



Los Angeles Avalanche’s Ashton Carmichael needs to figure out who he is as a football player.

“Hello?” Beau’s voice was sleep-roughened, gritty, telling me he’d either just woken up, or that I’d awakened him with my phone call.

“You’re still in bed? Get up, lazy-ass,” I teased. The tone of his voice still sort of echoed in my head, which obviously was weird as shit. “You sound like you just finished smoking two packs of cigarettes.”

“Gee, thanks. Nothing I enjoy waking up to more than a critique of my morning voice.”

“Morning voice…I like that. I’ve never heard it before. You’re husky. Is this always your morning voice, or is it some blend of sleepiness and Ashton-annoyance?”

Beau groaned. He hadn’t been doing that to me as much in the two weeks since the night we had pizza after Kenny’s game, and we’d hung out quite a bit. We’d had dinner at Fever Pitch again, jogged in the park, and had gone bowling with Kenny. Besides that, I’d fallen into the habit of sugar for breakfast at Campbell’s Confections, which I often shared just with Kenny. Beau also let me tag along to a couple of Kenny’s practices, and the first time I’d hung around and signed autographs for everyone afterward. Beau had apologized, but I hadn’t minded. They’d been some of the most respectful fans I’d met, and hell, I’d explained to him that it wasn’t as though I didn’t enjoy meeting fans, because I did, but sometimes I just wanted to be Ash and not Ashton Carmichael, ex-quarterback for the Avalanche. Most of the time, I didn’t want to be reminded of my off-field antics, but this happened more than one might think. Why did people believe it was okay to throw people’s mistakes at them?

Luckily, that hadn’t happened there, and it had been fun…almost as enjoyable as watching Beau coach. His passion for it shone through, and he was good, though I thought Beau was good at more things than he gave himself credit for.

Beau’s voice shook me out of my reverie. “I haven’t been annoyed with you lately.” He sounded as if he’d moved, maybe sat up, and I wondered what he was doing.