Who’s excited for Laces and Lace? I know I am! Instead of a teaser, figured I’d give y’all the first chapter! Enjoy!


Laces and Lace
By Toni Aleo

Chapter One

Every time Karson King stepped foot in Chicago, he felt like he was suffocating.
Or maybe it was the fact that Coach Baxter had lost his ever-loving mind before practice that morning. Karson wasn’t sure which one it was, but it was plain as day that he was struggling to keep up with the drills that Baxter was running. It wasn’t his morning. Ever since the plane touched down in Chicago, he knew that this wasn’t going to be a good trip. He was the one who always thought they would win. Hands down. The Nashville Assassins were the best damn team in the league, in his opinion. He’d scream it from the rooftop, but every single damn time they set foot into Chicago, he sang a different tune.
There was something, or better yet, someone in this damn city who mentally fucked him every time he visited. It didn’t matter. He could come for a quick visit, and something would go wrong. Like when he came for his buddy Drew’s wedding. It rained. Some say that is good luck, but it was an outdoor wedding. Karson was soaked to his underwear, and poor Elizabeth, the bride, looked like a drowned cat.
It was sad.
When he came for the alumni game for his alma mater so that he could drop the puck during a play-off game, he slipped on the fucking ice.
What the fuck?
He was a hockey player. He lived, breathed, and loved the ice and somehow slipped. Off a piece of carpet nonetheless. In front of thousands of people. Pathetic.
And for the love of God, when he played against the Blackhawks, might as well not even watch him; he was tragic. Playing like a pee-wee player, missing shots, missing blocks, basically looking like a fish out of water… He was downright ridiculous.
It was this damn city. That’s all there was to it.
Digging into the ice, he took long strides to catch up to his line that was crashing the net, hoping for some kind of rebound to score. But it was hard to score on Tate Odder. Like the ninja goalie he was, he batted every shot away. When the puck came in front of Karson, he went to shoot, but somehow forgot to connect the blade of his stick to the puck.
Like a dumbass.
When Jakob Titov took the puck and sailed it up to whoever was waiting for it, Karson let his head hang and let out a long breath.
“What the fuck, King! Get it together,” Coach Baxter yelled.
He hated this damn city.

After showering and basically licking his wounds after Coach ripped him one, Karson took a long nap, or better yet, tossed and turned in bed before heading out into the brisk, cold Chicago air. Looking around, he let out a long breath before letting his shoulders drop. Looking up at the tall buildings, the busy street goers, the basic splendor of Chicago, Karson couldn’t muster up anything but disdain for this city. It was supposed to be his second home. After coming here twelve years ago from Wisconsin, Karson knew he had been about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. He was going to train with the best college coach ever, Nate Martin. He was just that too—on the ice, that is. Off the ice, he could kiss both of Karson’s ass cheeks, but he didn’t like to think too much about that. It brought back too many painful memories. It made him think of how, for the last nine years, he hadn’t been living, not in the least.
It was sad, really. Chicago had been good to him before he left for the draft. He’d had lots of fun here, he made longtime friends, he played some of his favorite hockey here, and he also fell in love for the first time here.
The only time.
But now, he walked the street with nothing but a bad taste in his mouth. He hated it here. If he were honest, it wasn’t the city itself, but the person who he knew still lived here that made this city somewhat of a bad omen to him now.
Bundling up tighter in his jacket, he trudged through the cold with his buddy, Jordie Thomas. They were meeting up with some of their teammates for dinner before hitting the town. Karson’s hands shook in his pockets with the thoughts of running into the girl he left behind, but he knew he wouldn’t see her. He never did. Not in the forty-nine times he had been back to Chicago had he seen her gorgeous face, and man, he wished he had. Instead, he had to watch her from afar. On the Internet, stalking her on Facebook, and hearing things through the few mutual friends they had. It was insane, really. When he thought of Chicago, he thought of her. When he was in town, he prayed for some reason he would run into her, which would have him thinking of her the whole time he was here. She flooded his senses, his thoughts, his soul.
She was the one he let go.
And how idiotic that was.
Because there was something about Lacey Martin’s smile that could honestly knock him on his ass, before her eyes would pick him back up and her lips would demolish him. He then would pray that all of it would happen again and again because he loved her. More than anything in existence. She was the “bring home to Ma” kind of girl. She was perfect, beautiful, and stunning. When they were together for those three glorious months, he cherished her like the Stanley Cup. Yeah, it was short, but it was perfect. She was it to him. She was everything.
They had a plan. They were supposed to be together forever, but like all good things, they came to an end. A horrible, painful end. One he hadn’t come back from. There wasn’t a day that passed where he didn’t think of her, wonder where she was and what she was doing.
He doubted she did the same, though.
She probably still wished him to the fiery depths of hell. When people said his name, she probably cringed and regretted every moment she had spent with him. He broke her. Probably worse than the cancer she fought ever did. When he would look at her Facebook and study at the pictures she allowed the world to see, all he saw was fakeness. She wasn’t smiling the way she did when she was with him. She just looked pained.
Or at least he hoped she was.
“What’s up with you?”
Looking over, Karson met Jordie’s dark brown gaze. Despite it not being play-off season, Jordie had a long beard that he was currently twisting around his finger as he eyed Karson. The guy looked like he belonged back home in the backwoods of Colorado with an axe in one hand while wearing a plaid shirt. Looked as if he should be skinning a rabbit with his bare hands instead of murdering guys on the ice. He was the best enforcer on the Assassins, and Karson was glad he was his friend. He was kind of scary.
“Nothing,” Karson lied.
“Jack shit. You always get dumb when we come here. When are you going to tell me why?” he asked, receiving a dark look from Karson. “I know it has to do with that girl, so just tell me.”
Shrugging, he said, “She lives here.”
“Yeah, so? Hasn’t it been twenty years since you’ve seen her? Isn’t it time to get over it?”
Yeah, it was.
“It’s been nine, and I don’t see how this is any of your concern,” Karson said as he reached for the door handle to The Gage.
“Asshole,” JT threw at him, but he ignored it as he looked for their friends. When he spotted his teammates Erik Titov and Phillip Anderson, he made his way toward them, ignoring the hot little hostess who was trying to catch his eye. He wouldn’t have anything to do with her. Not here. If she were in Nashville, it would be a different story, but he didn’t touch anyone in Chicago.
It always worried him that Lacey could find out. Not that she even cared anymore. Even though a little piece of him hoped she would. He knew that was pathetic and disgusting, but he hoped anyway.
Letting out a breath, he shook hands with his friends before dropping into the chair as Erik said, “Man, you sucked today at practice. Better clean that up before the game tomorrow. What’s up with you?”
For shit’s sake.
“I asked the same thing. He’s being a fucking pussy, still caught up on some girl from thirty years ago,” JT said and Karson glared.
“Aren’t you only thirty?” Erik asked with his brow up.
“Yeah, and fuck you, JT. Why am I even your friend?”
“’Cause I am fucking awesome, dude. Duh,” he answered like it was as true as the sky was blue.
Which it wasn’t. JT was kind of an asshole, but everyone still liked him for some odd reason.
“Oh, that Lacey chick, she lives here, doesn’t she?” Phillip asked and Karson rolled his eyes.
“Guys, let’s drop it. I don’t want to talk about it.”
He never did. Not to anyone. Not his mom, his sister, not even his dad. Not that he would ever tell his dad anyway. They were superclose, but they didn’t talk about emotional shit at all. When Karson had come home, broken over Lacey, all his dad did was hand Karson a stick and stand in goal, blocking each shot that he shot until Karson basically collapsed to the ground in tears and exhaustion. Even then, his dad simply patted him on the back before walking away. Karl King didn’t do emotion. But he must have told his mom because Regina King was out there in a second, fussing and fawning over him.
As she held him tight in her arms, all Karson could do was wish that he could do it all over again.
He would have chosen her.
He wouldn’t have given in to her father and allowed him to ruin them. He would have told him to fuck off and prayed that he could give Lacey the life she deserved. He was pretty sure he could have too. He went third in the draft, first round. He didn’t even go into the AHL; he went straight into the pros, playing for the Lightning with a great contract. He loved Tampa; it was great but it wasn’t home, and most of the time he was just lost, trying to mend the pieces of his broken heart.
After playing for six years with them, he was traded to the Assassins, and crazily enough, he felt as if he was finally home. It was weird. He had been with the same group of guys for six years and hadn’t felt as comfortable as he did when he stepped into the Assassins’ locker room. It wasn’t just a team; it was a family. For the last three years, he had played great hockey but also had become part of an extended family. He loved the Assassins, minus JT, but he knew he would give it all up for her.
He once tried to do just that too.
After a year apart, when he knew he was settled and was sure he could take care of her if her cancer came back, he tried to contact her, but that went south quickly. Grady, her brother, threatened to kill him, and her dad changed her phone number, but that didn’t derail him. He was about to go to Chicago to see if he could get her back, but what stopped him was when his coach bumped him down to the fourth line, saying he wasn’t performing the way he should. Karson knew it was all crap, that it was Nate Martin warning him to stay away. And like a coward, he again did what Nate Martin wanted and again chose hockey over Lacey.
At that point, he decided he didn’t deserve her and left her alone, even though it didn’t feel right. He was young and stupid though because now, he would give it all up. Everything. Because what is a life without love?
It’s cold. Lonely. Worthless.
Yeah, he didn’t go without a warm body to keep him entertained, but it wasn’t love. It was a quick act of pleasure, and then they were gone. He tried once to date, but that was a disaster. Every girl he dated, he would compare her to Lacey. And since Lacey was on the highest pedestal ever, no one could amount to her. It was sad, and when Kacey, his sister, joked once that he was never going to get married, he knew she was right. Not unless it was to Lacey.
Which would never happen.
“Karson? You there?”
Karson looked up from where he was staring at the white plate in front of him to meet Phillip’s annoyed gaze. “Sorry, what?”
“The waitress would like to know what you would like?”
Lacey. He’d love to have the chance to love her again.
“A shot of tequila and a beer, please.”
“Whoa, killer, we have a game tomorrow afternoon,” Erik reminded him and Karson nodded.
“Two drinks won’t kill me,” he answered as he leaned back in his chair, his mind flooded with thoughts of Lacey.
It was as if a movie of their whole relationship, their breakup, everything was playing in his head. It was like he was standing there, reliving it, remembering the first time his eyes set on her, sitting up in the stands watching him practice. Or when she would study, drinking a mocha coffee and getting so lost in her books. The first time she showed him her scarred, deflated breasts from the cancer, and all he could do was think how strong and beautiful she was. Making sweet love to her for the first time and then asking her to follow him wherever he went. And then finally, when she broke down in front of him as he told her he couldn’t be with her anymore. He was a liar. A coward. He didn’t deserve her back then, but man, he wished he could do it all over again. He wished he could kiss her lips again, feel the softness and taste the sweetness of them. Feel her in his arms as they molded into one. He just wished he had another chance. Just one. He wouldn’t fuck up a second time.
Maybe he should seek her out, but as soon as that thought came to mind, his chest seized as his breath came out in a whoosh.
Man, he hated this city.
It fucked with him to the fullest.
“I think we lost him again,” Erik said as Karson looked up at the ceiling, pulling in a deep breath.
“Yeah, he’s gone. Idiot,” JT muttered.
The sooner he could get out of this city, the better.


“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”
Lacey Martin glanced back at her longtime best friend and sister-in-law, Rachel, and shook her head.
“I told you, if you don’t like the pictures, we can nix the idea, but at least let’s try. It will be good for the business.”
Lacey’s brows shot up. “Who thinks that? Because I don’t see how posing in my own lingerie is going to drive sales.”
Rachel set her with a look while the models that Rachel had hired, Carey, Winnie, and Amy, smiled tentatively. Lacey didn’t mind them; she thought they were sweet, but they agreed with Rachel on the photo shoot idea, and she didn’t like that. Not when she was doing everything in her power to nix it. Yes, she understood that it was good marketing to be in magazines, blogs, and all over Pinterest, but couldn’t they hire actual models for this? Why in the world did she and Rachel have to be a part of this?
“Your dad and Grady think it’s a wonderful idea,” she said, but Lacey didn’t believe that at all.
“My father and brother think it would be a good idea for their daughter slash sister and daughter-in-law slash wife to pose in lace solely to get sales?”
She shrugged. “Maybe I left that part out.”
Lacey laughed. “So when the pictures come out and I’m not in a pantsuit, we could have problems from the Martin men?”
“Who cares? This is your company—we do what we want,” Rachel announced and Lacey’s brows shot up again.
“Are you going to say that when we get bitched at?”
“Yes, I am. We look gorgeous, and we are going to rock this photo shoot.”
Lacey could tell Rachel tried to say that with enough conviction to convince her, but it didn’t work. Shaking her head, she glanced at herself in the mirror and grimaced.
“You can see all of my tattoos through this one. We should have gone with the black lace,” she moaned as her shoulders fell.
“You love your tattoos,” she stated, shooting a look at Lacey.
This was true, but still. “I don’t want them showing, though.”
“They are supposed to. I wanted to show as much as I could of each kind of woman. We have the double mastectomy breasts, Carey; the young breasts, Amy; the plus-size breasts, Winnie; the mother breasts, me; and then the reconstructed breasts, you. It’s every stage we offer. It’s our brand.”
For some reason, it annoyed Lacey that Rachel said reconstructed breasts. She didn’t understand why she did that. Why not call them what they are? “You mean fake boobs.”
“Reconstructed,” Rachel reiterated.
Rachel’s eyes darkened. “Why are you being a bitch today? You were on board with this last week.”
She had been and was even excited about doing the shoot, but then she opened the morning paper today and saw who was playing the Blackhawks tomorrow. Within seconds, Lacey knew that her day and weekend were going to suck. She didn’t want to be here. She wanted to go home and hide, something she had been doing for the last nine years to make sure there was no way she would see him, but there wasn’t a chance of that happening today. Not when they had the photo shoot and her brother’s birthday.
Placing her hands on her lace-covered hips, Lacey said, “That was before you put me in a stark-white lace bra and undies and told me to smile. You can see everything through this lace.”
Matching Lacey’s stance, Rachel glared. “That’s the point of our lingerie, but Phil is going to Photoshop our naughty bits out.”
“I don’t have naughty bits. I have tattoos and that’s it. Oh wait, I have a vagina. I don’t know if I feel comfortable with this,” she snapped.
She knew that she was being a bitch, even that she was being completely out of line since she did love this idea, but she was on edge and didn’t know how to bottle up the emotions that were coursing through her. Rachel looked at her for a second and then came toward her, pulling her away from the group of women and the photographer and into the bathroom.
Shutting the door, she placed her hands on her hips and asked, “What the hell is going on?”
“Nothing,” she lied, looking away as she fidgeted with the bandage on her arm from this morning’s bloodwork at her annual checkup.
“Don’t lie to me. I have been your best friend for ten years, Lacey. I know when you are lying. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Letting out a breath, she didn’t lie this time, but still only said part of the truth. “I just don’t feel sexy.”
Rachel’s eyes softened as she took ahold of Lacey’s hand. “How? You are gorgeous, Lacey. Look,” she said, turning her to the mirror.
Lacey looked at her reflection and again grimaced at what she saw. Yeah, she thought she was pretty. She had round, pale green eyes, framed by dark lashes, that were done up with dramatic, smoky black eye shadow, making her green eyes brighter. Her long blond hair that usually curled only at the ends was in big, full curls and pinned back at the top. She even thought her nose and dark red lips were cute, but as soon as her eyes drifted down to where her fake breasts were, she fought back the tears.
After finding out that her breast cancer was very aggressive at the age of seventeen, she was soon in surgery getting a double mastectomy. She was scared out of her mind, and doing it without her mom made everything ten times worse. Her mom had lost her battle with breast cancer when Lacey was seven; that’s why they opted for the double mastectomy so early. They wanted to save Lacey, and she understood that, but that hadn’t mean she wasn’t terrified. Her father was very adamant about it, saying he couldn’t lose her too, and she didn’t want to die, so she did what was suggested.
She knew she wanted to get the fake breasts after the surgery, but when her father informed her that they didn’t have the money for them, her confidence was broken. Hell, all of her was broken. She wasn’t Lacey anymore; she didn’t even know herself. She spent most of her time hiding and completely shut off from everyone, especially her brother and father. She was mad that her mother wasn’t there, that she had to lose her breasts to cancer, and that no one understood how it felt not to have all the pieces that all the girls in school had. She felt like the world was over for her.
When she graduated from high school though, she decided that she couldn’t dwell on not having her boobs. She was alive, she had another chance at life, and she was wasting it by crying over not having boobs. It was such a self-centered thing to do. Her mother wouldn’t want her to do this, and she was disgusted with herself. She then decided that it was time to start over, to be Lacey again. So that’s what she did. She went to college, she lived life to the fullest, and even though she went through the greatest heartbreak of her life, she trudged on and didn’t regret anything.
That was until she got involved with Ethan Stanford.
She should have known from the beginning that Ethan was going to be a problem. She met him at the grand opening of Lacey’s Lace. He was her age, twenty-three, played hockey for the Blackhawks, and at the time was good friends with Grady. He was handsome and charming and somehow pinned her down for a date, something that no one had been able to do in years. She blamed it on the Merlot, but he said it was because they were made for each other. She wasn’t sure about that, but everyone thought he was perfect for Lacey, so she figured she’d give it a try. She went on the first date, and to her surprise, it was great; Ethan was amazing and treated her the way she deserved to be treated. It had been so long since someone had romanced her, and she liked the way he made her feel.
Like she was special.
Her father loved him, Grady was happy, but something didn’t seem right. She wasn’t one hundred percent committed to him, and she knew it was because her heart still belonged to someone else. She didn’t want him to have her heart, though. He left her. He didn’t want her, so why was she still all caught up on him? He probably didn’t even give her a second thought, so she made herself fall for Ethan, which was the biggest mistake of her life.
Especially when she slept with him for the first time.
Ethan was horrified when she took her shirt and bra off. He didn’t tell her that he was repulsed, but she could see it on his face, and she was beyond embarrassed. She felt like she did when she was younger; she felt disgusting. He apologized, said the scars surprised him, and for some dumbass reason, she believed him. When he suggested that she get breast implants, she agreed because she knew that was the only way she was going to be able to keep him.
She needed to keep Ethan.
She had to forget him.
She had to move on.
So she had the surgery, and she actually felt pretty, or so she told herself. She actually convinced herself that she was in love with him, and when Ethan proposed, she said yes. Her dad and brother were ecstatic, overjoyed that she was “happy” again. They planned on a wedding in the summer since Chicago was so beautiful around that time, and she had always wanted to be a June bride. Her mother had been a June bride; it was meant to be, or at least that’s what she told herself. She had to tell herself a lot of things back then, not only that she loved Ethan, but that she loved the idea of living in the suburbs, that she loved going to the country club for lunch with his parents, or that she loved being prim and proper at every moment because he liked her to look good all the time. That she loved the way she looked with fake, weird looking nipples, and that she loved being a C cup instead of the B she was when she was younger. It was her life, a life she needed instead of being locked away, crying over someone who didn’t want her. It was what she was meant to do; all she needed was Ethan…that was until she found him having sex with the cashier in the bathroom of Lacey’s Lace the week before their wedding.
Oh, the betrayal.
The sad thing was, she didn’t even cry from the betrayal.
That’s how she knew she didn’t love him, that she had been lying to herself for two years. It was despicable and one of her biggest regrets, but what she hated the most was that she’d allowed him to have so much control over her. She should have told him to shove it up his ass when he didn’t like her breasts. She had accepted them—she loved herself—but she had allowed him to make her feel differently about herself. Wanting to get back her love for herself, she did the only logical thing—went and covered her breasts with tattoos, trying to hide what she’d allowed Ethan to do to her.
Through the white lace, it was easy to see the black and white lotus flowers that decorated her breasts in such an elegant, soft way. In the middle of her right breast was a bright pink breast-cancer ribbon with the words, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” curving under her left breast. She loved her tattoos, she even liked having fake boobs, but she hated why she had them. She thought if she had done them herself, for her, it would have been different, but since she’d done them for Ethan, they were ruined. He wouldn’t even let her pay for them; they were his gift to her.
Another reason she hated them.
Meeting Rachel’s gaze in the mirror, Lacey felt like an asshole. It wasn’t Rachel’s fault. She was trying to help the business, and Lacey was allowing the fact that she was basically putting Ethan’s wishes on display and that he was possibly in town to sour her mood. This was going to be great for business. It was going to show women that, no matter what, they could look sexy in Lacey’s Lace.
“I’m sorry, Rachel. Every time I look at myself, I see Ethan.”
Shaking her head, Rachel said, “You have to stop that. It’s been three years. You can’t let him have this hold over you. You covered his wishes with your own. This is your body, and you have to love it, Lacey.”
“I do love me,” she admitted. “I just hate that I allowed him so much power.”
“He’s gone,” she said, squeezing her hand. “You are Lacey Martin, owner of the hottest lingerie store in the US. You are successful, beautiful, and simply amazing. No one has any power over you.”
Well, that wasn’t entirely true, but Lacey said, “You’re right.”
Rachel smiled as she wrapped her arms around Lacey’s waist, placing her chin on her shoulder. “Now what else is wrong?” she asked, her eyes locking with Lacey’s.
Rachel was one of those women people loved to hate. She not only was married to a successful, star hockey player, but she was gorgeous. She had big brown eyes that were always filled with love and dark brown curls that fell just to her chin in a chic way. Standing in Lacey’s white fifties pin-up style lace set that covered her midsection, Lacey could see that Rachel was thicker than she was when they first met freshman year, but that had a lot of do with the fact that she had been pregnant twice with Lacey’s nephews, Flynn and Zander, in the last six years.
“Nothing, I’m just in a mood,” she said, trying to downplay what was really the problem. She knew she was using the Ethan thing to cover up the real reason she was upset. Why she was always upset when he came to town.
She bit on her lip as Rachel nodded. “You’re always in a mood when the Nashville Assassins are in town.”
How did she do that?
That was an easy question to answer. They had been best friends her whole adult life. No one knew her like Rachel did.
Taking in a sharp breath, Lacey nodded as she looked down at the counter, tears stinging her eyes. She did her best not to mention him. She kept him locked tight in her heart, but as always, Rachel saw right through her. She hadn’t been lying all those years ago when she’d looked him in the eye and said that she would never be the same.
She hadn’t been since she’d watched him walk away, leaving her behind.
“Yeah, I don’t want to hash out all that again, haven’t done it in nine years, and today isn’t the day to do it. I’m sorry for being a bitch. Let’s go do this.”
“Okay,” Rachel said but didn’t let Lacey go like she expected her to. Instead, she held her gaze and said, “You’re not going to lock yourself away all weekend are you?”
Yes. “No, but I’m not going to the game.”
She never missed a Blackhawks home game, except when the Assassins were in town. She didn’t step foot anywhere near the arena when that team was here. She couldn’t chance it. She hadn’t seen him or spoken to him in nine years, and she wanted to keep it that way.
“I know that, but you’re still coming out tonight, right?”
She nodded. “Of course I am. It’s Grady’s birthday. I wouldn’t miss that.”
“Okay, are you going to leave the bitchy attitude at home?” she asked with a teasing smile.
With a smile, Lacey nodded. “I’ll try.”

It was actually harder than she thought to leave her bad mood at home. It seemed like the whole walk toward The Gage, Grady’s favorite restaurant, all Lacey saw were Nashville Assassins hockey jerseys. They were everywhere, the damn purple and black jerseys with the stupid ninja assassin guy on the front that she hated so much, visible at every turn. If Lacey didn’t know the game was tomorrow, she would have thought it was tonight. It honestly made no damn sense. Did the whole Assassins fan base drive up for the damn game? She wasn’t sure, but it sure did fuel her bitchy mood, especially when a familiar number sixteen jersey ended up walking in front of her. That had her breathless and made her walk a little faster and around them toward the restaurant.
She thought once she got around her family she would be good, but no such luck. Everyone was so happy, while she was anything but. Grady and Rachel were blissfully in love, still after so long, and of course they were the best parents to their beautiful boys, looking like a family off a Pottery Barn catalog. She should have known that night at her very first college party that Rachel was a goner when she met her big brother, but a part of her didn’t want to accept it. Even when they got married a year later, Lacey waited for someone to tell her it was all a joke. They just didn’t go together. Rachel was crazy OCD and Grady was a freaking pig, but they worked. Perfectly together. To the point that Lacey was insanely jealous of them.
Even her father, Nate Martin, had brought someone to dinner, his girlfriend, Sabrina. It was weird seeing him with someone other than her mother, but it had taken him at least twenty years just to date, so she kept her mouth shut while he was extremely happy with Sabrina. She fully expected them to get married, which would be the final nail in her coffin.
While everyone else was happy and in love, Lacey was alone, and if she was honest, lonely. It had been three years since she’d kicked Ethan to the curb; maybe it was time to start dating again. But as soon as the thought came, she pushed it away.
She didn’t want to date. She didn’t want to put herself out there again just to be hurt in the end. She had been there, done that, twice, and she was done with all that. Maybe it was time to get a dog, or a cat, or turtle. Maybe she needed a vacation, somewhere tropical, where she could sleep with someone there and not worry about what they thought of her body as long as they got her off. Or hell, give her a vibrator and a good erotic novel, and she’d be fine on her own. That was the only way she’d been getting off lately, and now that she thought about it, that’s probably the way she’d end the night.
Yes, she was envious that everyone else got to go home and bang it out with their significant other, but, oh well, it wasn’t in her cards. She was meant to be alone, and the faster she accepted that, the better.
“How was the shoot today, ladies?” her father asked.
“Went great,” Rachel said with a grin, her face burning with a little color.
He looked over at Lacey. “You happy, princess?”
Lacey smiled at her childhood nickname as she nodded. “Yeah, it’s going to be great.”
“Can’t wait to see it,” he said and Lacey smiled.
“You all right, Lacey?” Grady asked and she nodded.
“You’ve been quiet,” he said, taking a pull of his beer.
She shrugged. “Lots on my mind.” By the look Grady gave her, he knew exactly what was on her mind. Leaning back in her seat with her wine glass in hand, she took in a deep breath and let it out. Glancing at her phone, she saw that it was nearly nine and hoped that Grady would say it was time to go soon.
“Lacey, darling,” Sabrina said, bringing Lacey’s attention away from her phone. “Are you dating anyone?”
Shaking her head, she said, “I’m not at the current moment.”
Or ever.
“My nephew, Richard, would love to meet you,” she said and Lacey shook her head.
“No, thank you, I’m too busy with work.”
“Don’t let work take over your life. It’s lonely, princess,” her father said and she nodded.
“I know, but at least my work will love me, no matter what. Men, not so much,” she said with a tip of her glass toward him. He gave her a tight smile that told her he was not happy with that response. Too bad she didn’t care.
“Mr. Right is out there,” Sabrina said, causing Lacey to laugh.
“I think Mr. Right had a one-way ticket out of Chicago and never looked back. But I’m fine on my own, no worries,” she said, and she didn’t miss the way her father and brother tensed up.
“It’s good he’s gone,” her father said. “He didn’t deserve you.”
“That’s your opinion,” Lacey said through tight lips.
“Who are we speaking of? Ethan?” Sabrina asked and Lacey laughed.
“Hardly. While he didn’t deserve me, he isn’t the one we are talking about.”
“No one important, honey,” Nate said with a shake of his head, but Lacey couldn’t disagree more.
He was important, he was the love of her life, and he just chose to leave her. To this day, she still didn’t understand what happened. They were so in love, so happy, but then he just left her. The rejection had kept her in hiding for years, but every once in a while, she got the idea of flying to Nashville and finding him and demanding answers. It was too late for all that though. It had been so long, but still Lacey’s heart yearned for him. She missed him, and that alone was crazy.
An awkward silence fell over the table, except for Zander and Flynn, who were playing, not knowing what the adults were talking about. Looking away from her father’s eyes, Lacey felt her own get misty with tears. How did she still miss him after all these years?
Ugh, she needed to go home.
Draining her glass, she stood suddenly and reached for her jacket.
“You’re leaving?” Rachel asked, surprised, as Lacey went to Grady, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
“Yeah, I’m tired. Happy birthday, Grady. Goodnight, everyone. Bye, boys,” she said and then kissed and loved on everyone, despite their protests, before heading out into the cold air. Taking in a deep breath, she let it out and welcomed the bite of the cold against her face. Wrapping her scarf around her neck tighter, she pulled her knit hat down over her ears and walked out to the street to hail a cab.
She should have stayed home tonight. There was no way of knowing that her father would have brought him up, but now her heart just ached. She had been hoping that she would get to work on her erotic novel and vibrator, but now it looked like she’d be going home, pulling out her box of him and crying the whole night.
Ugh. Closing her eyes to fight back the tears, she wondered when she would be over him. Was it because there was no closure between them? He’d just left. Didn’t give her a good reason for why he was leaving. Just said that it was better for her for him to leave. Why? Why was it better? It made no sense. He was on the fast track. He went straight into the NHL—didn’t start in the AHL like Grady had. His contract with the Lightning was a thing of beauty, and when he got traded to the Assassins, his contract was even better. They would have been set for life, but instead, he’d left her behind.
Wiping away the stupid tear that fell, she watched as a cab pulled up and she reached for the door. But as she got in the cab and sat down, someone else sat down beside her, having entered the cab from the other side. Someone big, someone who filled the whole side of the cab. Not that she cared; this was her damn cab.
“Excuse me, this is my cab,” she said, but when a pair of caramel eyes that she could never forget met hers, everything inside her went blazing hot. Sitting beside her wasn’t just some jackass who was trying to steal her cab—no, it was the love of her life.
The same love of her life who’d left her behind.

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