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Excerpt ~ Rookies At Love

Chapter One


Ryan kicked the door closed with his foot. Despite having a four-game point streak and inching closer to his 500-games played milestone, it was a shit show of a road trip. They’d lost all four games and were 0-4 to start the year. Last place in the division. Fuck. What the hell was going on with the team? He didn’t know, but they needed to get their collective heads out of their asses and figure their shit out.

He needed to figure his own shit out as well. He was one of the highest paid players on the team; he should be producing more, point streak notwithstanding. The fact that he wasn’t weighed on him. He took a breath and shook his head. Tomorrow was a full day off. Maybe he could convince Leyna to go to the zoo with him and Avery. He took another breath and realized there was still coffee. The scent tugged him through the laundry room and into the kitchen. It was spic and span as usual and he sighed.

“Doo-dah,” Avery shrieked and scuttled across the room, looking pleased to see him. At least somebody was. She patted his thigh and said, “Up.”

“Hi, kiddo,” he said and dutifully hefted her to his hip. He kissed her forehead, the corn silk strands of her wheat-colored hair soft against his lips. “Where’s Momma, huh?”

Avery twisted and pointed toward the arched doorway. “Mah.”

Leyna entered the room, long light brown hair straightened, makeup skillfully applied, dressed for…he didn’t know what. Her manicured hand held her purse in place at her hip as she glided toward him, her nails a bright red.

“I’m leaving.”

Ryan blinked. What the fuck? He’d just gotten home after being away for seven days. What was he supposed to say but “Okay.”? He shifted Avery to his other hip. “Where are you going? When will you be back?”

“No, Ryan. I’m leaving.”

“So you said.”

“Bye bye,” Avery chirped.

Leyna’s bright red lips thinned and she huffed. “I’m going home and I’m not coming back.”

Ryan blinked again; his stomach dropped. “What?”

“You heard me.” Leyna stood straight and tall and gazed back at him.

“You’re leaving and you’re not coming back.”

“Bye bye,” Avery said again and flapped her fingers open and closed.

“What the actual fuck?” Ryan’s thoughts whirled. There was practice on Thursday and a back-to-back Friday and Saturday. She couldn’t leave. “What about Avery?”

“What about her?” Leyna shrugged one shoulder, the opposite, perfectly-manicured eyebrow rising. “I’m not taking her. She’s your problem to deal with now. I can’t anymore. I tried. I mean, look at her.”

Ryan peered down in the face of his precious three-year-old daughter. The Down Syndrome had been a shock to them both, but, even back then, on his entry level contract, Ryan had earned enough money to provide all the help they needed.

Avery peered back at him with her bright eyes and toothy smile. She swung her feet back and forth and pressed her palms into his chest. “Down.”

He obliged and set her to her feet, making sure she had her balance before letting go. She waddled out of the kitchen, leaving Ryan and Leyna alone.

“Her schedule is detailed on the laptop.” She scooped an envelope from the counter and handed it to him. “Here. Divorce paperwork. I’m asking for three grand a month for two years while I go back to school. I don’t want anything else and I don’t want Avery. I’ve already seen an attorney. Everything’s on the up and up. Have your agent and your attorney verify. Good luck with the season.”

Her heels clicked on the flooring, marking her passage across the kitchen and through the laundry room. The door to the garage opened and closed and then the rumble of the garage door sounded once and then again a few minutes later after Leyna ostensibly got into her car and backed out of the garage.

Ryan gazed around the kitchen. Bright, shiny, polished, perfect.

Movement in the corner of his eye had him turning toward the bay window at the end of the dining area of the kitchen. The bright red of Leyna’s car reached the end of the driveway, turned left, and disappeared from view.

He looked at the fat white envelope in his hand and back out the window.

Relief washed through him, thoroughly and profoundly.

Ryan thought back over the last four years. He’d tried. He’d really tried. Insofar as he could while being a professional hockey player. Playing hockey at the highest level took a lot of time, a lot of training and conditioning. Practice. Travel. He was lucky enough to have endorsement deals as well, which meant more time, but also more money to care for Avery, to pay for the upkeep of this house and provide for Leyna in the way she’d grown up. He’d tried his hardest to please her and provide for her and it hadn’t been enough. None of it had been enough. But now she was gone and he was glad.

He took a deep breath, let it out. Took another. Yes. He was glad. The last four years had been stilted and uncomfortable. They never should have gotten married. But then he might not have Avery.

A crash sounded from the other room.

Fear replaced the relief, and he rocketed for the doorway. He rounded the corner to find Avery standing in the midst of a debris field of broken china, sobbing. He crunched across the room, swooped her up, and held her close, bouncing her lightly. “It’s okay, kiddo. It’s okay.” Avery clung to his neck and rubbed her tear-stained face against his shoulder.

He looked at the formal living room, at all the expensive fucking shit that Leyna had bought, at the shards of some piece of pottery he couldn’t have identified in a lineup if you’d paid him.

He peered over his shoulder, toward the kitchen.

His wife had just walked out.

His child’s mother had walked away.

Oh. God.

His breath whooshed from his chest.

It wasn’t fucking okay.

Avery’s breath shuddered and she clung tighter.



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