“Hey,” someone said, tapping my shoulder. I spun around to see the karaoke host.
“Greg.” He thrust his hand at me.
“Auden,” I said, taking his outstretched palm. “Thanks for switching songs.”
“Tina Turner didn’t seem like your thing.” Greg might’ve had a cute face hiding under his beard. Still not my type, though. Too monotone. Even the plaid flannel hanging off his lean frame was brown. His style screamed Eddie Vedder, nineties grunge rather than today’s hipster cool.
“Oh, I can rock some Tina. Just wasn’t feeling ‘Proud Mary’ without my backup dancers.” I pointed to Kristen and Lacy.
Greg laughed. “Need a drink?”
“I already have—” I searched the table for my drink, spotting it in Lacy’s boyfriend’s hand. “Actually, I do.”
Ignoring Kristen’s megawatt smile, I followed Greg to the bar. She better not have set him on me to boost my spirits. She knew he wasn’t my type. Douche bags like Crazy Hair and the guys he’d flipped off got my motor running. Douche bags and I were on the same wavelength. Neither of us wanted more than the other could offer.
Greg moved to the side so I could order. “Club soda with three limes, please.”
“And a Steam Whistle.” Greg pointed to a beer I didn’t recognize in the stand-up cooler behind the bar. The bartender nodded and extracted a bottle.
“You’ve got a killer voice,” Greg said.
“Well, there’re no Tina Turner–type vocals in that song.” I blew off his compliment.
“No, but it’s hard to sing that soft and keep your key.” His mouth curved into a wide, kind smile. “You from around here?”
“Detroit,” I said, nodding. “But I go to Central State.”
“Are you kidding?”
I shook my head and picked up the drink the bartender had placed in front of me.
“So do I. That’s crazy.” Greg held up a few bills, waiting until the bartender saw the money before setting it on the bar. “My roommates and I have a band and we’re looking for a singer right now.”
“You’re in a band? That’s awesome,” I said, focused on mashing the limes in my drink. I raised my glass to him. “Thank you, by the way.”
“No problem.” He picked at the label on his beer bottle. “Any interest?”
“In what?” I asked, looking at Greg over the top of my cup.
“Singing for our band.” He didn’t even blink.
“You’re joking, right?” I laughed. Asking me to sing in his band after hearing one karaoke song was hilarious. I’d never taken voice lessons, and as far as I knew, I didn’t have any significant talent.
“Why would I joke?” He didn’t seem to understand my laughter at all.
“I just sang in public for the first time and you’re asking me if I want to be in a band?” Being the center of attention for five minutes in a karaoke bar was one thing; standing on stage in front of people expecting a show was a different beast.
“So that explains your lack of stage presence,” Greg said as he ran his fingers over his beard, looking more English professor than rocker.
“Quite the charmer, aren’t you, G-man?” I took a drink. I knew I didn’t have stage presence. Hell, I didn’t make eye contact.
“Stage presence can be learned,” he said. “You have a great voice and a hot look.”
Once I realized he wasn’t kidding, I was speechless.
Greg continued peeling the label off his beer bottle as he waited for me to speak. “It’s nothing crazy. We just play bars in Bridgeland, well, mostly at Wreckage.” He chuckled.
“Yeah, I don’t think so, but thanks for asking.” I forced a half smile.
“Come on,” he pleaded. “Just try out. If you like it, great.”
“I don’t think I could even learn to be comfortable on stage.”
“I can get you over your stage fright.” Greg’s voice was molasses, thick and smooth; a contrast to his grunge-hipster vibe. The lights flickering above gave his previously plain eyes a sensuous sparkle as he waited for my answer.
Why did I have to be a sucker for sparkles? “Okay, sure.” My head bobbed in reluctant consent. “The worst that could happen is I fail miserably, right?”
“You might surprise me.” Greg winked. He searched the bar before grabbing a pen lying on an abandoned credit card receipt. Then he flipped over a coaster advertising some brewing company’s winter ale and began scribbling. “Here’s my number. Call me next week for an audition.”
“This is crazy.” I took the coaster from him.
“What do you have to lose?” His eyes were solid and intense as he stared at me.
Nothing. I’d long since lost it all. But he didn’t know that.
Without another word, he walked away, leaving me alone at the bar, perplexed by the interaction.
“What did Eddie Vedder’s son have to say?” Kristen asked, nodding toward Greg, who had resumed his place behind the karaoke machine. Of course Kristen would think of a similar description for his look. It was one of the many reasons we’d been calling each other the “other half” since the first day of freshman year when we were assigned the same dorm room.
“He wants to me to try out for his band,” I said, flashing her the coaster. “Which is stupid.”
“No it isn’t.” She snatched my hand and squeezed. “You’re really good.”
I shook my head. Right now I was high from my time on stage and the applause and compliments I’d received, but as soon as I got home and thought about the unexpected conclusion to my soccer career again, the euphoria would abandon me. Just like my team had.
Just like everyone does.
“You’re a popular lady tonight. The Mohawked hottie stared at you the entire time you talked to karaoke guy.”
I followed Kristen’s gaze to the table where Crazy Hair and his friends were sitting. Though the group seemed to be leaving, downing their drinks and grabbing their coats, Crazy Hair stood still, his penetrating eyes on me.
I had a feeling he was the type of guy who would say anything to get me to take him home, and then slink away without a word the next morning. Though drinking had usually been involved when that had happened, I couldn’t even blame the alcohol. I fell for guys like him because I needed the attention. I needed to feel like someone wanted me. I needed to pretend that someone might be able to love me.
The way parents should have loved me.
It was an impossible void to fill.
Crazy Hair slid one of the muscular arms I’d admired earlier around the shoulders of the girl with the tight red sweater. She had big everything. Big hair, big boobs, big smile. Still holding my gaze, he said something against her ear, and she threw her head back in a laugh revealing big white teeth. Moving his hand to her back, he allowed her to go first as they followed the rest of the group toward the door.
Which reminded me of another definition of smoke show: to dominate, crush, or otherwise humiliate the opposition.
I have a new favorite series! It is always hard to know what to expect when picking up the first in a new series. I’m a hockey romance fan and couldn’t wait to get caught up in a new team.
I loved the chemistry and banter between Auden and Aleksandr. With a few unexpected twists, I couldn’t put Delayed Penalty down until I read the last page. I think I would have preferred dual point of view for Auden and Aleksandr’s story. There were moments that reading his POV would have given the reader just a little bit more.
I can’t wait for the next book in the Pilots Hockey series. I’m wondering who we’ll get to read next.
Sophia Henry, a proud Detroit native, fell in love with reading, writing, and hockey all before she became a teenager. She did not, however, fall in love with snow. So after graduating with an English degree from Central Michigan University, she moved to North Carolina, where she spends her time writing books featuring hockey-playing heroes, chasing her two high-energy sons, watching her beloved Detroit Red Wings, and rocking out at concerts with her husband.