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The Risk (Briar U): Chapter 41


Since it’s sacrilege not to make use of a perfectly good pair of hockey tickets, Dad and I end up sticking around in Worcester. We’re in the standing-room-only section of the arena, which happens to be near one of the cameras that are set up on the perimeter of the rink to capture and televise the game. I spot a cameraman in a HockeyNet jacket and wonder who Mulder sent to cover the game. Kip and Trevor don’t report live, so Geoff Magnolia probably got the gig.

I know who Mulder didn’t send: Georgia Barnes. I mean, come on. Vaginas and sports? The horror.

A lanky man in a suit approaches the cameraman, and I curse softly under my breath. Not softly enough, because Dad glances up from the email he was answering on his phone.

“What is it?”

“Geoff Magnolia,” I grumble, nodding discreetly toward the cameras. “That’s who HockeyNet assigned to cover this.”

Like me, Dad also isn’t a fan of Magnolia’s reporting. He follows my gaze. “Huh. He got a haircut. Looks like shit.”

Laughter bubbles in my throat. “Dad. Since when are you so snarky?”

“What? It’s a shitty haircut.”


“Can it, Brenna.”

I watch as Magnolia converses with his cameraman. He uses a lot of hand gestures. It’s distracting. Thankfully, he never does that on camera.

“You know what? Screw HockeyNet,” I say. “I’m applying at ESPN this fall. They have a way better track record of hiring women. And if I intern there, that means I don’t ever have to see Ed Mulder again. Or that tool over there.”

I glance at Magnolia again, and oh my God—he’s drinking coffee out of a straw. Or if not coffee, it’s at least a hot drink, because steam is rising from the liquid.

“Ugh. I take it back. He’s not a tool. Tools are actually useful. That man is not.”

“And I’m snarky?” my father demands. “Take a good look in the mirror, Peaches.”

“Can it, old man.”

He howls with laughter, and then returns to his emails.

As I crane my neck trying to pick out any familiar faces in the stands, my phone rings. I peer down, register the unfamiliar number on the screen, and hit ignore.

Three seconds later, a text pops up.

Hey, it’s Jake’s friend Hazel. He gave me your number. He’s in the locker room and desperately needs to see you.

I frown at the message. I don’t know why, but this feels like a trap. Like she’s luring me into the locker room so she could…what? Beat me up with a hockey stick? I resist the urge to roll my eyes at myself. My paranoia is a bit absurd.

“Dad, hey, do you mind if I go talk to Jake for a minute?”

His head pops up from his phone. “How’d that happen?”

I hold up my own phone. “He says he wants to talk.”

Dad thinks this over for a second. Then he shrugs. “Give him hell.”

“Oh, I intend to.”

“That’s my girl.” He pauses for another beat, and his tone becomes brusque. “If the outcome of this chat results in my daughter coming back here with a boyfriend, then tell that boyfriend he’s invited to dinner tonight.”

My jaw drops, but I don’t question him or attempt to discuss this unexpected invitation, because I have no idea why Jake even wants to see me.

And why am I racing to see him, I ask myself a minute later, after I’ve burst through a second set of doors. My step stutters in the middle of the hallway.

Jake broke up with me. I shouldn’t be running back to him so eagerly. And what if he’s only summoning me to say thanks for returning his bracelet? That would be so humiliating. I don’t need his gratitude. I need his…

His what?

I don’t even know. I mean, my heart certainly knows what it wants. It wants Jake Connelly. But news flash—my heart is reckless and stupid. It doesn’t look out for itself, which means I have to look out for it.

When I reach the locker room area, there isn’t a security guard in sight. I’m not sure which door leads to the Harvard locker room, so like a total fool I call out, “Jake?”

One of the doors to my left immediately swings open. I half expect Hazel to be on the other side of it, but she’s not. It’s Jake, and his forest-green eyes soften at the sight of me.

“You came. I wasn’t sure if you would.” He opens the door wider so I can come in.

I follow him inside. The game doesn’t start for another forty-five minutes, but it’s still weird to see the locker room empty. The wide wooden lockers spanning the walls are neat and tidy, uniforms and padding hung up and waiting for Jake and his teammates.

“Where’s your friend?” I ask when my gaze returns to his.

“In her seat, I assume. I’m sorry I had to text you from her phone, but I forgot mine at home.”

“Ah. That’s why you didn’t respond to any of my messages about your bracelet.” I nod at his wrist, relieved to see the familiar pink and purple beads. “I see you got it, though. Good.”

“Almost didn’t,” he murmurs.


“Nothing. It doesn’t matter. We don’t have a lot of time before the team arrives, so let’s not waste it on a stupid bracelet.”

My eyebrows fly up. “A stupid bracelet? You’re talking about your good-luck charm here, Jakey. Show some respect.”

A huge smile stretches across his handsome face.

“Why are you smiling like that?” I ask suspiciously.

“Sorry. I just missed hearing it.”

“Hearing what?”

“Jakey.” He shrugs adorably. “I’d gotten used to it. I don’t even care if it’s a jab. I’m digging it.”

I take an awkward step backward. “Why did you ask me to come?”

“Because…” He hesitates, running a hand through his hair.

I’m slowly beginning to lose patience. “You broke up with me, Jake. Remember? You said you didn’t want to see me anymore and that I was a distraction, and now you’re dragging me to the locker room before such a crucial game? How is this not a distraction? What do you want from me?”

“You,” he blurts out.

“Me, what?”

“That’s what I want. I want you,” he says simply.

I stare at him in disbelief. “You dumped me.”

“I know, and I’m so fucking sorry. I was a moron. And I was selfish. And…” He swallows. “I was a coward, okay? No other way around it. I’ve always been selfish, but the one thing I’ve never been is a coward, and that’s why I broke up with you. Because I was scared shitless. I’ve never been in a relationship before and I was feeling pressured.”

“Pressured how?” I’m confused for a moment, until I realize a bleak truth. “Oh. I get it. I told you about the miscarriage and everything that happened, and…I became some sort of emotional burden for you—is that it?”

“What? No, not at all,” he exclaims. “I promise, that’s not it. I was happy when you opened up to me. I was waiting so long for you to do that, and then when you finally did, it was like…” His gaze softens again. “It felt good to be trusted, especially by you. I know you don’t trust a lot of people.”

“No,” I say pointedly. “I don’t.”

“The pressure I felt was more about relationships in general. I was stressing over how we would make it work when I’m in Edmonton, how I could make you a priority, how we’d cope with not being able to see each other that much. I could list a bunch of other things, but it all boils down to…I had a panic attack.” He sighs. “Men are stupid, remember?”

I can’t help but smirk.

I was stupid. And now I’m asking for your forgiveness.” He hesitates. “And I’m asking you to give me another chance.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because I love you.”

My heart expands in my chest, and for a moment I worry it might burst through my rib cage. Hearing those three words come out of Jake Connelly’s beautiful mouth triggers a wave of emotion that I desperately try to suppress.

“You hurt me,” I say softly.

This time, my vulnerability is not thrown back in my face. “I know I did. And you can’t even imagine how awful I feel about that. But I can’t change it. All I can say is that I’m sorry, and that I’ll do everything in my power to never hurt you again.”

I can’t answer. My throat is too thick with emotion.

“If you want me to beg, I’ll beg. If you want me to jump through hoops, bring them on. I’ll spend every waking hour until I have to report to training camp proving to you how much you mean to me.” His teeth dig into his lower lip. “Proving that I’m worthy of you.”

I feel my own lips start to tremble and pray to God I don’t cry. “Fucking hell, Jake.”

“What?” His voice is hoarse.

“Nobody’s ever said anything like that to me before.” Not even Eric, in all the months and years he spent trying to win me back. Eric tossed out phrases like I’m the one for you and you can’t do this to me. Not once did he offer to spend even a fraction of a second proving that he was worthy of me.

“Every word is the truth,” Jake says simply. “I fucked up. I love you. And I want you back.”

I swallow past the lump in my throat. “Even though I have another year left of college?”

He offers a half-smile. “My rookie season is going to be brutal, babe. Time-consuming. It’ll probably be better for us if you’re also busy, right?”

He has a point.

“We can make it work. If we truly want to be in a relationship, then we’ll make that relationship work. The question is, do you want it?” He hesitates again. “Do you want me?”

The stark emotion contained in that one question robs me of breath. The words are so raw—do you want me? It’s not the hour-long confession I gave the other night, but that doesn’t make him any less exposed. All of his insecurities are revealed in his eyes, the hope, the regret, the fear that I might reject him. And, oddly enough, I also glimpse that familiar Connelly confidence. This man is even secure about being insecure, and damned if that doesn’t make me love him even more.

“I want you.” I clear my throat, because I sound like I’ve been chain-smoking for a week straight. “Of course I want you.” I exhale in a fast burst. “I love you, Jake.”

The last boy I said those words to chose himself over me, repeatedly, and without a second’s thought.

But the man I’m saying them to now? I have faith that he’ll always choose me, always choose us.

“I love you, too,” he whispers, and the next thing I know he’s kissing me and, oh my gosh, I missed this so much.

It’s only been a few days, but it feels like years since Jake’s warm lips were pressed up against mine. I loop my arms around his neck, kissing him back hungrily until his husky groan bounces off the locker room walls.

“Christ,” he chokes out. “We gotta stop that. Now.” He glances at his crotch. “Fuck. Too late.”

I follow his gaze and laugh when I notice the massive erection straining behind his zipper. “Control yourself, Jakey. You’re about to play hockey.”

“Don’t you know? Hockey players are passionate and aggressive,” he says silkily.

“Ha. Right. I totally forgot.” There’s a big, dumb smile on my face, and it refuses to subside. I’m overflowing with happiness, a state of being that is completely foreign to me. I’m not sure I like it.


I actually kind of love it.

“You should go,” Jake says reluctantly. “The team’ll be bursting in any second now. Are you staying for the game?”

I nod. “My dad’s here, too.”

“Seriously? Aw fuck, why’d you have to tell me that? Now I’ll feel extra pressure to perform.”

“Don’t worry, Jakey. I speak from personal experience when I say I’ve got nothing but confidence in your ability to perform.”

He winks. “Thanks, baby.”

“Oh, and don’t let this freak you out even more, but he wants to take us to dinner after the game.”

Don’t let this freak you out even more?” Jake scrubs his hands over his face. “Jesus Christ. Just leave, babe. Leave now before you do any more damage.”

“Love you,” I say in a singsong voice on my way to the door.

“Love you too.” He sighs from behind me.

That big-ass grin is still plastered to my face when I walk out, and a disgusting spring to my step carries me down the corridor, as if I’m a character in a Disney movie. Oh no. I’m in trouble. Badass Brenna Jensen isn’t allowed to fall this hard for a guy.

It happened. Deal with it.


I guess this is my life now.

At the end of the hall, I turn the corner and my happy gait takes a bit of a stumble when I bump directly into Daryl Pedersen’s bulky chest.

“Whoa there, Nelly,” he says with a chuckle—which dies the second he recognizes me. “Brenna.” His tone is careful now. “Here to cheer Connelly on, I suppose?”

“Yup. I came with my dad, actually.” When his expression darkens, I try not to laugh. “We’re both rooting for you today, Coach.”

Although he’s momentarily startled, he recovers quickly and gives me a smirk. “You can tell Chad I have no need for his support. Never have, never will.”

“Still a sore loser after all these years, eh, Coach?”

His response is terse. “I’m not sure what you’re insinuating, but—”

“I heard you tried to bang my mother and she shot you down,” I cut in cheerfully. “And I’m not insinuating anything—I’m explicitly suggesting you were a sore loser back then, and you’re a sore loser now.” I shrug. “With that said, I’m still rooting for Harvard tonight. But that’s because of Jake, of course. Not you.”

Pedersen’s eyes narrow so much they resemble two dark slits. “You’re not like your mother,” he says slowly. I can’t tell if he’s pleased or disheartened by that. “Marie was a sweet southern belle. You’re…you’re not like her at all.”

I meet his disturbed gaze and offer a faint smile. “I guess I take after my father.”

Then I continue down the hall, my legs moving in that obnoxiously bouncy gait I can’t control, because my happy heart is calling all the shots, and all I want to do is get back to the ice and scream myself hoarse as I watch the man I love win his game.


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