I’M CRUSHED AGAINST the glass by heavy hockey players, and I couldn’t be happier. Madness ensues as the final buzzer sends the arena into a frenzy. We won 4-3 with an overtime goal by yours truly. Going from not playing then winning the game with the people I love watching in the stands, feels surreal.
“Let’s fucking go!”
“We’re national champions!”
The ice is covered in royal blue as we line up to congratulate Yale on a good game. Eric Salinger shakes my hand. “Well played, Crawford. See you out there.”
I nod, patting his back and moving down the long line of players. Eric signed with New York on an entry-level contract, so facing off again is inevitable.
I spot Kian inching the tub of BioSteel closer to Coach who takes a post-game interview. They wheel out the trophy, and right before the camera’s call for us, we lift the tub and drench Kilner in the blue liquid.
“Pains in my ass,” he shouts, though his genuine smile and bloodshot eyes tell us a different story. He pulls me in for a hug. “Don’t know how I’ll handle these Neanderthals without you. Gonna miss you, kid.”
“I’ll miss you too, Coach.”
“Do I get a hug?” Kian interrupts with a hopeful smile.
Kilner pulls back. “You’re talking again?”
“You said I could!”
Coach cracks a smile. “Get over here, Ishida.”
Letting him have his moment, I move through the crowd, throwing hugs and congratulations around as I search the area.
“Aiden!” Summer jumps and swings her arms around my neck. “You killed it! I’m so proud of you, Captain.” She attacks my face with kisses. Our eyes lock, speaking a million things that words can never do justice. When I bring her to my lips, she pulls away too quickly. “My dad is watching us.”
That bursts the bubble, and I let her climb off me. Lukas Preston approaches us with a serious look that turns into a shockingly wide smile. “Now that’s what I call a game.”
I relax and shake his outstretched hand. “Thank you, sir. And I appreciate you talking to the dean.” Coach told me about him helping with the suspension lift, and I’m grateful. Especially since we didn’t end on the best note.
“It would be a disservice to hockey to not get you on the ice tonight. You did good, kid,” he says. “And call me Luke.” I freeze, and Summer laughs at my starstruck expression.
My family makes their way down. “We’re so proud of you, Aiden. You were amazing out there.” My grandparents’ embrace feels warm and comforting. It echoes the feeling I’d get when my parents would attend a game. I’ll be forever grateful to Summer for making it happen. Her five-year plan has been thoroughly dismantled, but mine has just begun, and she is its focal point. Summer is my sun, and I’m the simple planet revolving in her orbit.
“Well, your mother expected me home hours ago.” Lukas Preston says. “You need a ride back, Sunshine?”
“I can get a ride with Amara.” When he turns to leave, Summer stops him. “Hey, Dad? Maybe we can meet for dinner again. Like a re-do.”
A grateful smile spreads on his face. “I’d like that.”
Summer’s smiling when I snake my arms around her waist. “I’m proud of you.”
Her cheeks blush. “Me? You just won a championship. All I did was talk to my dad.”
“Both equally important victories. We did good today, Preston.”
She smiles brightly. “We did.”
When cheers erupt, my attention follows the team heading to the locker room. “I gotta head in. Meet me at the hotel?”
“Actually, I think I have a better plan.”
IT’S PAST MIDNIGHT. The post-game celebration went on for hours, not including the time it took to shower the champagne off. I tried to stay sober, but being the captain means celebration is necessary. This time Kilner even indulged, but he left soon after because he didn’t want us to see him drunk. The way he slurred his words and allowed a stray tear to slip down his cheek during his heartfelt speech told me he’s an emotional drunk. Kian recorded the entire thing to watch later.
“It’s a surprise!” Summer says, trying to focus on driving.
When we exited the arena, Summer rounded us up, and we shuffled into a car. The guys, Cassie, and Amara piled into the back. Apparently, Amara’s date, Bennett, said we could borrow his van. Summer invited the rest of the team, but they were still getting wasted. Our bus back to Dalton leaves tomorrow afternoon, so we have tonight to celebrate.
“You can give me a hint. Come on, I’m too drunk to even remember it long enough to spoil it for anyone,” Kian says loudly, even though he thinks he’s whispering.
Summer blows out a breath. “You’ll see it with everyone else. I’m not playing favorites.”
“I’m your favorite? I knew it,” he whispers excitedly. “Did you hear that? I’m Sunny’s favorite, you all can suck it.”
The car erupts in grumbles, most of them telling him to shut up or threatening to throw him out the window. Which I’d be all for because he’s been jabbering the entire drive. An exhausted Eli made us pull over earlier because Dylan placed the godforsaken wedding cake topper on Kian’s seat. He managed to separate them, but that meant Kian was directly behind the driver’s seat, annoying us.
“I feel like a bad boyfriend for making you drive.”
Summer glances at me, probably noticing I’ve sobered up a great deal because two hours ago at the arena, I was singing her love songs and holding her tight.
“You’re my passenger princess. Just look pretty and tell me the wrong directions,” she says, patting my thigh.
I intertwine our hands. “Are you sure your parents are okay with this?”
“Yup. My mom loves you, so I didn’t even have to finish asking before she said yes. She even watched your game on TV. Divya Preston is a big fan.”
“That’s sweet. I should probably check my phone, but I glanced at it earlier, and it gave me a headache.”
“Just relax today. You can go back to being a disciplined captain tomorrow.”
“And tonight?” The heavy look I send her makes her blush and turn to the road.
When we arrive at the Boston Harbor, everyone gawks at the vessel. Summer shoots out instructions that go over poorly with our drunken group. But somehow, we manage to get everyone into cabins.
“Lastly, this is our room.” Summer kicks off her shoes and lies flat on the bed.
I notice a box beside her. “And what’s this?”
“For you.” She smiles.
Opening it, I pull out the black lingerie. The sheer fabric of the tiny one-piece is butter smooth. “If this is my reward, I don’t think I’ll ever lose.”
“I thought you’d want to check it off my bucket list.”
I drag her mouth to mine and kiss her hungrily.
“Wait.” She pulls away. “There’s one more thing.” She pulls an envelope from the box. I’m still opening it when she blurts, “It’s tickets to Toronto.”
I’m stunned. “You’re coming with me?”
“For two weeks. Before I have to come back for my program start date. I thought I could show you around, and we can start this long-distance thing off right. It’s not too much, is it?”
“It’s perfect. Thank you, baby.” She blushes as I lower her onto the bed. “Now, put this on so I can fulfill your bucket list.” As I unbuckle my belt, I feel a metal object in my pocket. I almost forgot I had it.
I pull out the fuzzy pink handcuffs. “Can’t forget these.”
She giggles between my kisses, tugging off my sweater. “I brought something for you too.”
“Maple syrup,” she whispers.
I groan, hastily trying to remove her top. A hard knock startles us both. “Is your dad here?” I ask in horror.
“What—No, why would he be here?”
Right. That would be crazy. The knocking intensifies. I lift off the bed to answer the door with Summer behind me.
Dylan peeks through his fingers and exhales when he sees us. “Good, you’re still dressed. Kian just fell overboard.”
“What?” We both exclaim. A nonchalant Dylan leads the way to the commotion in the main room.
“Well, that definitely sobered him up,” says Cassie. She’s sitting next to Kian on the couch.
“That totally killed my buzz,” Kian grumbles. “Can someone get me another drink?”
My worry drains when I hear his voice. The last thing I need is one of these idiots dying on me. “Never thought I’d feel peace from the sound of your voice, buddy.’
Kian flips me off as a shiver racks through him. Eli tosses him a robe, and I find the switch for the fireplace.
“I’m pretty sure I saw the afterlife down there,” Kian says to Cassie. Amara and Sampson roll their eyes from their place on the couch.
“You were in there for two minutes before Eli pulled you out,” says Dylan.
“The afterlife doesn’t have a specific timeline.”
Dylan groans. “Say the afterlife one more time, and I’m drowning you myself.”
“Okay, that’s enough. No one is drowning anyone. Kian and Eli are going to change, and then we’re all having a nice dinner.” A shivering Kian throws Summer a salute, and everyone finally goes to their rooms.
Three fights and two flying utensils later, we had dinner and settled into board games. Amara was close to biting Sampson’s head off, so we put them on the same team. That didn’t work as expected because now they’re bickering about who won the game. Dylan and Kian sang Party in The USA with Summer while they drained an unlabeled bottle of alcohol that worried me.
But it makes Summer extra nice, especially when Cassie calls us outside to watch the fireworks, and she wraps us in a blanket before settling in my lap.
“They’re a handful,” she whispers sleepily, resting her head on my chest. She even brought the stuffed cow I won her at the carnival, tucking it between us.
“You’re telling me. I’ve been fathering those children for years.”
“You make a great DILF,” she says with a kiss on my chin.
I laugh. “So, I suppose you can say it now.”
“Aiden Crawford, you are the one to tear down my ice fortress and show me the ways of a hockey player.”
“Not happening,” she mutters. “But you are pretty damn perfect, you know that?”
I brush my lips over hers. “Only when I’m with you.”
“You’re stuck with me, Crawford.”
“Good because I love you, Preston. Like, a lot.”
“I love you, too. Like, a lot.” Summer burrows deeper into my embrace. Her warm, peachy scent swirls around us, a soothing concoction that has me pulling her closer. When I hold her like this, I realize my entire world fits in my arms.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.