If the road to hell was paved with good intentions, where exactly did bad ideas lead you?
Tyler Bowie wasn't sure, but he figured he was about to find out. It was bad enough that he'd been crushing on his teammate's little sister since she moved down here a few weeks ago. Bad, but not insurmountable. Nobody else knew he was crushing on her. As long as he kept that little tidbit to himself, he'd be fine. But getting roped into picking her up? Yeah, that was just leading to trouble. It didn't matter that nothing would happen—he wasn't that bad—but when Jason found out? There'd definitely be hell to pay.
Even if it was Jason's fault that Tyler had to pick her up in the first place.
He eased the SUV to the curb in front of the mall, his eyes searching for the familiar head of brown hair. There she was, standing just outside the door. He threw the SUV into Park and reached for the door handle but he was too slow: she had the passenger door open and was climbing up into the seat before he could get out. She tossed the oversized bag on the floor in front of her then turned toward him, her slate blue eyes shining in the early afternoon sun coming through the windshield. She pushed the windblown hair from her flushed face and gave him a bright smile.
"Thank you so much for picking me up. I really appreciate it."
"Sure, no problem." Tyler averted his gaze, doing his best not to look at her as she fumbled with the seatbelt and readjusted it over her shapely chest. Yeah, this was definitely a bad idea. Jennifer Emory was his teammate's sister, he didn't need to be ogling her.
Even if she was cute. Definitely a hell of a lot cuter than her brother.
Tyler waited to hear the click of the seatbelt then put the Grand Cherokee in gear. "So. Where to? Back to Jason's?"
"Did he give you his keys?"
"His keys to what?"
"His place. I don't have a set yet."
Tyler placed his foot on the brake, glanced in the rearview mirror to make sure he wasn't blocking anyone, then shifted in the seat. "Uh, no. I didn't realize I was supposed to."
"Oh. I could have sworn I asked Zach to get his keys. Maybe I forgot." A frown creased her oval face, which only made her look cuter. Tyler tightened his hand on the steering wheel and once again reminded himself that he had no business thinking Jennifer was cute—or anything else for that matter.
"Did you want me to take you back to the rink? Jason's probably still there, practicing—"
"No, just drop me off at his place. I can wait outside."
"Um, Jennifer—it's January. It's freezing outside. I'm not just going to drop you off and make you wait out in this cold."
She waved a dismissive hand in his direction and laughed, the sound just a little stilted despite the smile on her face. "I wouldn't be waiting outside. I can just camp in front of his door. The hallway's heated."
"I'm not sure—"
"And it's Jenny."
Another smile, this one wide and bright. "I hate being called Jennifer. So it's just Jenny."
"Okay. Jenny. I'm still not comfortable with just dropping you off. Jason would have a fit if I did that." Jason was going to have a fit anyway, no need to make it worse.
She frowned again. Tyler's gaze dropped to her mouth, to the delicious little pout that puckered her full pink lips. He inwardly groaned and pulled his gaze away—and found himself looking straight into her eyes. Well shit. Had she noticed him staring at her mouth? Probably.
Yeah, this was definitely a bad idea.
Heat filled his face and he looked away, trying to come up with some excuse—any excuse—for staring, but his mind was disgustingly blank. It didn't matter, because she was talking again, hopefully oblivious to his discomfort.
"How about if I call Jason to see where he is? Then you won't feel bad about dumping me." She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out her phone, her long finger quickly tapping the screen. She pushed the hair from her face again and held the phone to her ear, her booted foot tapping with impatience as she waited.
She blew out a disgusted sigh and ended the call. "He's not answering. He's probably already back at the apartment. See? You can just drop me off and—"
"Or he could still be on the ice, working out his frustrations. Let me call Zach to find out, just to be sure."
Jennifer—no, Jenny—gave him another dismissive wave then settled back in the soft leather seat. He glanced behind him once more to make sure he wasn’t in the way of any other vehicles. He wasn't—traffic around the mall was slow, especially this time of day. He jammed the Cherokee into Park again and pulled his phone from the console and started to dial Zach's number, then bit back a curse when the SUV's hands-free system took over. He hesitated then leaned forward, disabling the Bluetooth.
Yeah, better safe than sorry, especially when it came to Zach Mummert. It was anybody's guess what might come out of his teammate's mouth, and he sure as hell didn't want Jennifer—Jenny—to overhear.
Just in case. Because that's how Zach rolled.
He picked up on the third ring with a grunt that might pass for a greeting. Tyler's gaze slid to his passenger then he shifted in the seat, angling his head closer to the door.
"Where you at?"
"Leaving the rink now. Why?"
"Is Jason still there?"
"Yeah. The asshole won't be satisfied until he runs himself into the ground. Why?"
"Because his sister doesn't have keys to his place."
"So?" Tyler repeated the question and snuck a glance at Jenny. She was leaning against the door, pretending she couldn't hear every word being said. He shifted in the seat and cleared his throat. "I can't just drop her off outside. How long is Jason going to be?"
"Who the fuck knows? With where his head is at, it's hard to say. Just take her to the rink if you have to."
"And what if he leaves before I get there?"
"Christ, Bowie. I don't know. You're a big boy, figure something out."
Tyler closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, pulling in a deep breath. Then he released it, slow and easy, forcing himself into a zone of calmness he didn't feel.
"Listen, if that crazy goalie brain of yours is too muddled to make a decision, just take her back to your place and have Jason pick her up when he's done."
"I, uh—" Tyler swallowed and threw a hasty glance at Jenny. "Not sure that's a good idea."
"Why the hell not?"
There was a brief pause, one filled with nothing but the sharp intake of Zach's breath. Then he let loose with a string of profanity loud enough that Tyler actually pulled the phone away from his ear with a grimace.
Jenny laughed, the sound bright and airy—and maybe a little frustrated as well. Tyler frowned and slid closer to the door. Yeah, like that was going to help.
"Am I on speakerphone?"
"No, you're not on speakerphone. But you're screaming loud enough that they heard you all the way inside the Food Court."
"Is Jenny with you now?"
"Yeah, she's sitting right here."
"Then get out of the car."
"You heard me. Get out of the fucking car so she can't hear me."
Tyler pinched the bridge of his nose again then shook his head. He tossed an apologetic glance in Jenny's direction then reached for the door handle, nearly tripping in his haste to get out. He slammed the door then leaned his back against it, trying to ignore the slice of frigid air that seeped in through his open coat.
"What the hell is your problem?"
"Are you out of the car?"
"Yeah. I'm out. Now what the hell is your problem?"
"You absolutely cannot be putting the moves on Jenny. Do you hear me? That's Jason's—"
"Whoa. Back up. I'm not putting the moves on her! Fuck. What the hell kind of man do you think I am?"
"She's Jason's sister," Zach continued, as if he hadn't heard Tyler. "She's his baby sister. Don't even think—"
"I'm not! What the hell makes you think I would even do something like that?"
There was a long pause, one that made Tyler frown. Then Zach swore again and let out a deep breath that echoed in Tyler's ear. "Then what the fuck was all that 'not a good idea' shit you were spewing a few minutes ago?"
"You really have to ask? Look how you just went overboard. What the fuck do you think Jason's going to do?"
"He'll get over it."
"I don't think—"
"Listen, just take her back to your place and call him. Tell him what happened. Trust me, he'll be over there so fast, it won't even matter."
"With the way he's been acting lately? I'm not sure I agree with you."
Zach made a loud sound, a cross between a snort and a laugh. "With the way he's been acting lately, I'll be surprised if he even notices."
Tyler grunted in agreement. Jason wasn't the most observant guy around on a good day. Things had only gotten worse ever since he'd screwed up with Megan, the bartender at Mystic's. He'd slept with her without recognizing who she was. And then he didn't recognize her after he'd slept with her.
Talk about fucked up.
No, Jason wasn't the most perceptive guy around. But Jenny was his sister. His little sister. So what if she was over twenty-one? Jason wouldn't see it that way. And Tyler didn't care what was going on in the other man's head, he knew he would still have a fit if Tyler took her back to his place.
"I have to get going. I've got things to do."
"I thought you said you just left the rink."
"I did. But I wanted to stop off someplace before I head home for my nap."
"Like none of your damned business. Listen, do whatever you want. I've got to run."
"But—" Tyler didn't bother to finish, not when Zach had already disconnected the call. He pulled the phone away from his ear and frowned at it. What the hell was going on with everyone lately?
Harland Day, another teammate, had spilled his guts to his girlfriend this morning. Right there, in front of the whole damn team. Then Jason was screwing up with the girl he liked. And now Zach was acting all weird—weirder than usual, anyway.
At least Harland he could understand. He and his girlfriend had a kid together, a cute little boy. But the other two?
Tyler shook his head, pushing thoughts of his teammates from his mind as he turned to open the door. The passenger door opened just as he was ready to get in and he paused, frowning as Jenny climbed out and slammed the door behind her.
"Uh, Jenny? Where are you going?"
"I don't want to be a bother. I'll just catch a bus or something." She waved and tossed a smile over her shoulder. A gust of wind caught her hair and blew it in front of her face as she turned away, but not before he saw the film of moisture covering her eyes. His stomach plummeted.
No. Oh no. Was she upset? Were those actually tears in her eyes? No. No fucking way. He had to be imagining things.
He hurried around the front of the SUV, catching her arm before she could move away. She stiffened but didn't brush his hand away. A good sign? Maybe. But she didn't turn around to look at him, either.
Tyler dropped his hand and rocked back on his heels. "You're not a bother."
"Really? Because that's not what it sounded like."
"Yeah, really. Come on, get back in and I'll just—" Tyler pulled in another deep breath and released it, a little faster than he had planned. "I'll take you back to my place. Jason can pick you up there."
"Honestly, I can just take the bus and—"
"Do you even know where you are? Or which bus to take?"
Jenny finally turned around but she wouldn't look at him. Her head was lowered, like she was too busy studying the concrete under her feet. The wind caught a few more strands of her hair and blew them around her face. The sun glinted off the strands, turning the streaked brown into a vibrant mix of dark amber and honey.
Oh well fuck. Tyler jammed his hands into his pockets and told himself that he did not just notice something stupid like the different colors of her hair. No fucking way.
This whole idea just went from bad to worse. That didn't keep him from opening his mouth and digging himself in even deeper.
"I'm not letting you take the bus. And not just because you don't know where you are. The bus doesn't even go near Jason's. And if you did make it back to his place, you'd still have to wait outside. Now come on, hop in and I'll give you a ride. Back to, uh, my place. Until Jason picks you up."
He waited, holding his breath, until Jenny finally looked at him. Tyler breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that her eyes were clear, no tears in sight. Had he been imagining it before? Maybe. But there was still a hint of sadness in the small smile she gave him when she hoisted the bag higher on her shoulder.
Unless he was imagining that, too.
"Are you sure it's not a problem?"
"Yeah. Positive. I was just going to take a nap. You can hang out in the living room and watch television or something."
She cocked her head to the side, studying him. He sensed her hesitation, her unwillingness to believe that she really wouldn't be in the way, so he stepped back and pulled open the passenger door.
She still didn't move, not right away. She kept watching him, her eyes seeing…what? What did she see? And what was going through her mind? Tyler had no idea but the look made him uncomfortable and he had to fight not to squirm under it.
Or was that just his own guilty conscience? Because yeah, the way she was looking at him? With her hair falling over one shoulder and those full lips pursed into a small smile? Jenny was cute. More than cute, actually. If it was anyone else, he'd be asking her for a date. More than a date. Hell, he'd be asking her to go back to his place, and not just to talk.
But this wasn't anyone else. This was Jason's sister. His teammate's sister—which meant she was Off-Limits. With all capital letters. Period.
So yeah, he needed to stop thinking that way. Especially since he was taking her back to his place.
If she ever got into the car.
He opened the door wider and swept his hand out in a grand gesture, like he was offering her a ride in a splendid chariot or something. She tossed her head back and laughed, her eyes twinkling with mischief as she stepped past him. She reached out and placed her hand on his arm, leaning in close enough that he could smell the faint fruity scent of her shampoo. The heat from her body brushed his and he nearly jumped back in surprise.
Not from her being so close, but from the way his own body reacted. The way his blood heated and his body tightened, the way his pulse kicked up a notch.
Fuck. Not good. So not good.
"You're sure it's not a problem?"
Tyler cleared his throat and nodded, wondering if his smile looked as stiff as it felt. As stiff as certain other parts of his body were turning. "Yeah. No problem."
She leaned in closer and for one horrifying second, Tyler thought she was going to do something stupid—like kiss him. But she only squeezed his arm and offered him another bright smile before stepping away and climbing into the SUV.
He slammed the door closed, probably a little harder than he meant to, and walked around to the other side.
This was Jason's sister. All he was doing was taking her back to his place until her brother picked her up. That was it. Nothing more than helping a teammate out.
Yes, that's all it was. He was helping a teammate out, nothing more.
Now all he had to do was keep reminding himself of that—and keep telling himself that anything else was a bad idea.