1. Kissing Micky
    Kissing Micky will be re-released by Limitless Publishing March 19, 2019.
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Kissing Micky
Chapter One

“You cannot possibly be serious, Paige. Look at him! He’s like a walking fantasy! My personal walking fantasy.” Liz looked at her best friend as if she’d lost her mind, and laughed. “There is no way I’m going on a date with that. I wouldn’t be able to remember his name. Hell, I wouldn’t be able to remember my name.”
 
Paige laughed with her. “I know, right? It’s like someone drew a picture from your personal wish list!” She hooked her arm into Liz’s elbow. “But really, Liz, I am serious. He’s Chris’s best friend. They’ve known each other for years; they’re like brothers. And they’re finally on the same team again. Chris was the one who suggested it.” Liz looked sideways at her and raised one eyebrow skeptically.


 
 
Paige let go of her elbow and put her hands up. “I swear!” She laughed. She put her right hand over her heart and became very serious. “I swear that I have never once told my husband that a big, tough, six-foot-four defenseman with shaggy light brown hair, broad shoulders, and blue eyes is your personal fantasy.” She smiled at Liz. “He really does think that you guys would get along. And he wants Micky to at least meet someone who isn’t on the team.”
 
‘Micky’ was Tom McCullin, recently traded to the Washington Guardians from the Montreal Lynx. At thirty-two, he was well into a successful NHL career. He was no superstar, but he was a strong player, respected by his teammates. He was also an enforcer—the guy on the team ready to drop the gloves in the game when it was time for a fight.
 
Tom had been best friends with Chris Beckman since they were teenagers playing together on national level and college teams. Chris had signed a long-term contract with the Guardians about five years earlier, and had met and married Paige while playing with the team.
 
Chris and Paige had eloped—Justice of the Peace and a trip to Hawaii—so in an odd twist of fate, coupled with crazy hockey schedules, their two long-time best friends had never actually met each other before now.
 
Paige put her hands on her hips and looked mockingly stern. “Liz Williams, are you seriously refusing a request to be friendly and hospitable to a new person—Chris’s best friend—and join us for dinner? I will even have him wear nametags. One with his name and one to remind you of yours.”
 
Liz recognized defeat. Now she just made a snarly face at Paige while Paige laughed. “Come on, grouchy, let’s go say hi.”
 
They started across the backyard pool deck. They were at Chris and Paige’s house at the pool party they hosted in the last half of July to welcome the new team members and generally get the guys and their families together for a little fun. It had become a summer tradition; it was never a huge party because folks went their own ways during the off-season, but it was always a great time.
 
Halfway to where Chris and Tom stood talking with a few other guys, Liz was literally swept off her feet by Jakob Zimmerman, a young right winger and good friend of hers. He grabbed her around the waist, put her across his shoulders with a triumphant shout, and then half-ran to the end of the diving board. There were yells from the partygoers—some giving him a hard time for harassing her, many encouraging him to dump her in the water, and most encouraging him to jump in with her.
 
The latter came mainly from the kids in the crowd—he was doing this mostly for their benefit, and Liz knew that. She had shrieked once in surprise, but had started belly laughing as soon as she realized what was going on. Zee was a ham, and his love of making people laugh was one of the reasons they got along so well. He tended to go for boldly dramatic physical humor, while she leaned more toward the “I gotta tell you what happened to me today” variety.
 
Tom had looked over as soon as he heard the shout and shriek, and saw one of his younger teammates grab a woman in khaki shorts and a dark blue t-shirt, and run off with her. He watched the show along with everyone else, but was paying attention to the woman, rather than the guy. After the first shriek, she hadn’t seemed upset at all, and she wasn’t fighting him, not even in jest. There was no fake protesting, no begging not to throw her in, no extra touching to make it more of a show. She was just…is she laughing?
 
Paige continued over to Chris and Tom, and the three of them watched the show going on at the pool. By this time, Zee seemed to have decided that the votes had gone in favor of him releasing Liz, so, amid groans of protest from the kids, he put her down on the diving board. She put her hand on his arm, thanked him sweetly, and then caught the back of his knee with her leg enough to get him off balance, and hip checked him off the end of the board amid cheers.
 
Having received their parents’ permission, the kids were now all jumping in the water to play with Zee, and Liz, forgotten by the masses, walked over to join Paige.
 
Paige asked, “Do you think he’s ever going to grow up?”
 
“God, I hope not! The world needs fun. He’s such an idiot, you’ve just gotta love him,” Liz replied. She had a huge smile on her face and her blue eyes were shining brightly as she turned and faced Chris and his best friend…wow, it should not be legal to be that good looking.
 
His light brown hair was mostly straight, but thick and longish, coming to his eyebrows. It had a sort of permanently tousled look, as if he’d just run his fingers through it, or just toweled off. His eyes were a rather startling shade of dark blue. He was clean shaven, which made him look somewhat younger than he was; she knew they were the same age. She realized with a start that Tom was holding out his hand.
 
She took it and shook it, hearing him say, “Tom McCullin, really nice to meet you finally. It feels weird that we have known the same people for so long and never met.”
 
“Liz Williams. Same here. I blame them for eloping,” she said, gesturing with her head to Chris and Paige. “I would have been willing to travel to Hawaii for a small wedding.” She hadn’t let go of his hand, and she felt slightly lightheaded at the contact.
 
He laughed. “Me too! I have never been.”
 
The handshake seemed linger for a while before they both noticed and let go at the same time.
 
“I was excited to see you traded here. You’re a fun player to watch, but it was difficult for me to fully appreciate your abilities properly while watching you flipping one of my guys end-over-end in the middle of the ice. I have a feeling I’m going enjoy that a lot more when you’re doing it to, say, somebody from Pittsburgh.”
 
Tom looked surprised, and pleased. “You’re a fan?”
 
Liz laughed, and said, “Definitely. Ever since I was a kid. I remember the first hockey game I ever saw on TV. There was a fight, and the refs were just standing around watching. I was like, ‘Why aren’t they doing anything? Those guys are fighting.’
 
“Long story short, I ended up deciding that hockey is the best, most honest sport. Fast paced, with a limited amount of play stoppage; strength, speed, and an amazing level of skill required; gritty, rough, full contact, with none of the injury-faking bullshit you find in something like soccer…” she seemed to be really getting into what she was saying, “…and insults and fighting are part of the fucking game, which is why I think it’s honest. Who wouldn’t love the opportunity to beat the crap out of someone at their job every now and then?” She looked around, and caught the look on Paige’s face. “I did it again, didn’t I?”
 
“Yup.”
 
Tom’s mouth was hanging open slightly in surprise. Liz looked at him briefly and blushed.
 
Paige gaped. “You’re blushing? I didn’t think you had it in you, Liz.”
 
“Really, Paige? Do you think that’s helpful right now?” She turned to Tom. “Sorry. I usually try very hard not to scare off new folks by dropping random f-bombs in the first five minutes. I may have just set a new record.”
 
Chris laughed, clapped Tom on the shoulder and gave him a huge grin, took Paige’s hand, and asked her to help him with the food. Liz squinted up at Tom. He had recovered, and had a devastatingly cute smile on his face, including the hint of a dimple in one cheek.
 
Her stomach flipped. That really isn’t fair. He doesn’t even have the decency to be missing a few teeth. “I’m assuming you know already that they have the four of us going out to dinner. Are you actually okay with that?”
 
Tom gave a strong laugh, and said, “Are you kidding? You just convinced me I’m going to have a great time.”
 
She tamped down the flutters that she felt when he laughed, brightened, and said, “Excellent.” Pretending to write a note on her hand, she added, “Note to self: does not shy away from random f-bombs.”
 
At the sound of a particularly loud laughing shriek, they turned to look at the pool, where kids had lined up to have Zee pick them up and throw them. All the kids, including the big one doing the throwing, seemed to be having fun.
 
“Hey, why didn’t you try to get him to put you down earlier? You didn’t seem to try to sway the vote either way.”
 
Liz chuckled. “It wouldn’t have mattered. He had decided before he picked me up what he was going to do. If I had been wearing a white shirt I would have known he wasn’t serious, because this was for the kids. He wasn’t trying to start a wet t-shirt contest.” Tom’s eyes widened slightly at the visual that presented. “But with the dark blue shirt I had no idea if I was going in or not.”
 
“So, what if he had thrown you in?”
 
She turned and looked at him, like she wasn’t sure she understood the question. “I would have gotten wet…? That’s the way that usually works.”
 
“You’re not wearing a swimsuit.”
 
She shrugged. “Chris and Paige have a dryer. Maybe I could borrow a t-shirt from Chris. He’s tall enough, so one of his shirts might make a passable dress. Whatever. In any case, I wouldn’t melt, and the outcome would be the same. Still funny, just with different players involved.” She squinted her eyes a little. “I would have made sure that he got his, though. No doubt about it.”
 
Tom caught himself looking at her curiously, genuinely surprised at the idea of a woman who wouldn’t be pissed off at being dumped into the pool at a party. She was definitely cute—tall, at around five-foot-nine, with her dark blonde hair in an easy ponytail. Her figure was average, nothing that would have called his attention from across the room, but when they met, and she had turned to him with that smile…well, that had been something altogether different.
 
While they were talking, Zee had finally gotten out of the water and wandered up, dripping wet.
 
“Speak of the idiot and he shall appear,” she said.
 
Zee clutched his chest. “I’m wounded.”
 
“Oh, sweetie, if you were truly wounded every time I called you an idiot, you would have died the death of a thousand cuts already.” She turned toward Tom. “Tom McCullin, Jakob Zimmerman. Jake, Tom. And I’m quite certain that will be the last time you two will hear your given names for a long time.”
 
The two players grinned and shook, introducing themselves as Micky and Zee.
 
Liz rolled her eyes and said, “Sometimes I wonder if it is physically impossible for hockey players to call each other by their given names.”
 
Zee took Liz’s hand and said, “And you remembered my name. I knew you cared.”
 
“Some of us use our brain cells for things other than just pranks and hockey plays, Zee.”
 
He blinked. “Well, that seems like a waste of good brain space. Why on earth would you do that?”
 
She sighed, and looked at him in a long-suffering way that told Tom this was a conversation they had repeated many times. “So that you can call me after a bad game, and I can tell you stories about funny crap that happened during the day and make you laugh, and then you’ll remember that there’s some weird thing that you want to put in someone’s sock tomorrow, and you’ll feel better. That’s why.”
 
“Oh, that’s right.”
 
He smiled at her with a grin that was far too large. Her eyes got wide, she said, “Shit!” and tried to dodge, but he caught her in an enormous, extremely wet bear hug. “Argh! Oh, my God, you are a such pain in my ass!” But she was laughing while she said it. Zee gave her a fat kiss on the cheek and let her go.
 
She saw Paige starting to move some food out of the house, and took the opportunity to escape. “I’m going to go help Paige. Nice to finally meet you, Tom.” She walked off, still chuckling, plucking her now-wet shirt away from her body.
 
They stood and watched her go. Tom was surprised, and oddly pleased, that she had called him by his given name rather than Micky.
 
Zee turned to Tom and said, “Great to meet you, Micky. Welcome to DC.” Then he ran back to the pool and cannonballed into the water, to the delight of the kids still swimming.
 
Tom walked over and found Chris hanging out near the beer cooler. He was introduced to a few more people, drank another beer, ate a burger, and generally enjoyed the party. But he did find himself regularly looking around, trying to catch a glimpse of a woman in a dark blue, slightly damp t-shirt. She appeared to be at least passing friends with most of the people at the party. Every time he looked at her it seemed she was either hugging someone, laughing with someone, or talking in an animated way, obviously telling a story that had everyone around her laughing. He hadn’t really meant to, but he caught her eye.
 
She blushed, and he felt the corner of his mouth turn up. His smile widened as she blushed a bit deeper and looked away.
 
***
 
Liz had just been talking with the wife of one of the players about their five-year-old son’s latest obsessions, and they had been sharing a laugh together, when the woman suddenly asked, “So have you met the new guy? I think his name is McCullin?”
 
Startled, Liz replied, “Yes. He’s actually Chris’s best friend, so Paige introduced me earlier.”
 
Her friend leaned in. “Am I imagining things, or is he seriously good looking?” Liz choked on the drink she had just taken. “I was just wondering if you realized that he’s been looking at you all day.”
 
Recovering her composure, Liz replied, “I’m quite sure you’re imagining things, but you are very sweet to think that.”
 
“He’s looking at you right now.”
 
Liz turned before she could stop herself and caught Tom’s gaze. She felt herself blush, and saw him smile. She could feel herself getting redder, and felt her heart rate speed up an unreasonable amount.
 
Her friend laughed, and said, “See? He’s all kinds of adorable, Liz. I’m just sayin’.”
 
Liz hugged her friend, and got up to move toward heading home. “I will take that under advisement,” she said, looking very serious. Her friend burst out laughing.
 
Liz went looking for Chris and Paige to say her goodbyes and thank yous. The party had been a huge success again. She found Chris first. He was standing with Tom, which she probably should have expected, but it still caught her just a bit off guard and made her feel slightly lightheaded.
 
“Hey, Chris, I’m heading home. Thank you so much. I had a blast, as usual. You know I love coming to your house.” She wrapped him up in a big hug, which he returned. Chris and Paige were family to her.
 
“Of course, Liz. Wouldn’t be a party without you. Hey, I’ll text you about going to dinner, okay? Maybe tomorrow night, if you can swing it. Micky was just asking me how soon we could go.”
 
Liz turned to Tom to say goodbye, and caught him looking briefly wide-eyed at Chris. He recovered quickly, and turned to Liz. “It was great to meet you.”
 
“You too.” She smiled, looked into his stunningly gorgeous blue eyes, and noticed that they were framed by unreasonably long, thick lashes. She started toward him as if to give him a hug, gave a small lurch, and held out her hand for a handshake, all the while feeling like there was a small group of creatures cavorting through her insides. Possibly otters. “See you soon.”
 
Tom had leaned toward her for a goodbye hug—hadn’t he seen her hug almost everyone at the party the entire day? He saw her outstretched hand, and caught himself short, staring at it. He took her hand, shook it as he had when they had met earlier that day, and repeated, “See you soon.”
 
As she made her escape, Tom shot a questioning look at Chris. Chris couldn’t decide between shock and laughter. “Don’t look at me, Micky. I have no clue what that was about. I have seen her hug a perfect stranger, because ‘it seemed like the right thing to do.’” He used air quotes for emphasis. “Which it was, by the way. I can’t ever figure out how she does that. But honest to God, Mick,” he had started laughing by this point, “I have never seen her do that. Maybe the stink of the Montreal locker room hasn’t washed off yet.”
 
“Fuck off, Becks,” Tom said, laughing. The insulting banter made him feel more comfortable, which was exactly what Chris had intended.
 
 ***
 
“You did what? You didn’t. I don’t believe you.” Paige and Liz were standing by Liz’s car.
 
“Why would I make this up? I. Shook. His. Hand. I feel…I can’t even think of words that express how stupid I feel.” Liz covered her eyes.
 
“Fatuous?” Paige suggested. “Silly? Idiotic? Absurd?” Paige was a high school English teacher.
 
“Stop! Yes. All those things.” She looked through her fingers. “I told you this was a bad idea. I looked in his eyes and I panicked. They’re really blue. Really, really blue. With long, dark lashes.”
 
Paige’s phone chimed with a message. She looked quickly, and smiled. “Well, you’re stuck, because we’re going out tomorrow night. Chris just made reservations in Old Town.” Another chime. She laughed. “And he wants to know what the hell is wrong with you.”
 
Liz sighed. “I promise to be better tomorrow night. I will focus.” She put her hand up sideways in front of her face in a visual representation of how focused she would be.
 
Paige hugged her friend. “We’ll have a good time tomorrow night. Micky is smart and funny, Liz. You will like him, not just the way he looks. I promise.”
 
As she turned and walked back toward the house, Liz heard her saying, “She shook his hand. Unbelievable.”