Excerpt Dump and Chase (Nashville Assassins: Next Generation #1) by Toni Aleo
Chapter One / Shelli
I can’t seem to catch my breath. Every single fiber of my being is vibrating with nerves. I feel the tension everywhere. My chest, my arms, my legs—I’m pretty sure my ass is shaking with excitement. I can’t believe I’m here. I’m really here.
In Aiden Brooks’s apartment building.
When Chris, my buddy, passes me a bottle of tequila, I take a long pull before passing it back, shuddering from the bitter liquid. I need it, though. I need the liquid courage to get me into this building. I run my hand down the long platinum blond braid of my wig. I didn’t want to wear my wig from the show, but Chris was in a rush to get here. We came straight from the theatre after our last performance. I washed my face free of the dramatic stage makeup, but I wish I’d had time to take this damn wig off. Chris convinced me it didn’t matter one way or another.
Being here, though, I find that it does matter to me. With each step I take, I regret my decision not to change. To be me, instead of the character I’ve played for the last six months. Not anymore, though, and as much as I want to be sad that my part in our show is over, I’m not. I had every opportunity to re-sign for another six months, but I decided not to. I’m done. I’m going home, and I am so damn excited.
I haven’t lived with my parents full time since I was sixteen. I know most girls wouldn’t be complaining, but I really do love my mom and dad. My siblings are okay on a good day, and I enjoy being with them. I miss them constantly, and I’m finally ready to go home. I need the distance from New York, I need to figure out who I am, what I want, and what my future holds. I am done with Broadway.
I know my mom is sad I’m quitting, but I don’t like who I am becoming here. I don’t feel happy, and I’m not living my life to my fullest. I feel like I’m just going with the flow, doing whatever my castmates do, and I don’t want that. I don’t want to develop a drug habit. I don’t want to sleep around or get drunk every night. I don’t need that stuff. I was good with who I was before I was exposed to this world. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been great, and I’ve made wonderful memories. The standing ovations have been intoxicating and the money has been awesome, but this doesn’t feel like my path anymore.
I want something more. I just have no clue what that is yet.
Tonight, though, I don’t have to worry yet about what the future holds. It’s my last night as a New Yorker, so I’m going to make it the best night ever. Because tomorrow, I head back home to my new reality. I want to say I’m scared, but I’m not. I’m stoked.
I bite my lip as I climb the stairs to the entrance with Chris. As animated as always, he is talking with his hands. “Are you sure you’ve gotta go?”
I don’t even look at him as I nod. He’s taller than me, way taller, and good-looking to some. I knew the moment I met him, though, that he would only be a friend. He didn’t get that memo, and he has begged me daily to date him. I don’t see him as boyfriend material. Even with his blond hair, green eyes, and beautiful jawline, he isn’t who I want. He isn’t the one I’ve been crushing on for most of my life. Which is probably why every guy I’ve ever met has not been boyfriend material. But now is not the time to evaluate that.
“Yeah, I’m ready for a change.”
“You’re turning your back on your art. You were made for the stage. You’re Elli Fisher’s daughter, for fuck’s sake.”
I smile at the use of my mom’s maiden name. I’m not sure anyone really remembers Elli Fisher. Even though she was one of the most amazing performers of her time, I don’t even think my mom misses her. Not once Elli Adler made her mark on the world as one of the best owners and general managers for the Nashville Assassins. My mom started making a name for herself when she was the youngest owner in NHL history. She’s always been ruthless and makes bold moves. She was one of the first owners to sign a woman and play her on the ice. She makes trades like no other, and she loves her players as if they were her kids. She’s absolutely phenomenal, and if I can be half the woman my mom is, I’m winning.
“I hear you, but I want more.”
“More? What’s more?”
“I don’t know yet,” I admit with a smile. “But I’m going to find out.”
He rolls his green eyes, every bit annoyed with me. I know he wants me to stay so he can get me to fall in love with him, but that won’t happen. Not when my sights have always been set on one guy in particular.
The stairs into the lobby are endless, it seems, but when I see the elevator, my heart stops. I clear my throat. “So, he’s here? Aiden?”
Chris chuckles. “Yes. Why would we be going to a party at his house if he weren’t here?”
I shrug as he pulls out a card, sliding it into the slot before the doors open. “You have a card?”
Chris flashes me a grin. “Aiden and I are good friends.”
I know this. Ever since Chris found out I had a thing for the Rangers’ center, he likes to rub it in my face that he knows Aiden. It’s crazy that in the two years I’ve known Chris, this is the first party he’s taking me to. I don’t know if it’s because I’m leaving or if he really thought he was going to get in my pants and make me fall for him so I’d forget Aiden.
If it’s the latter, he’s so very, very wrong.
“Do you want another hit?”
I glance over to where Chris is lighting up his blunt. I shake my head. “No, I’m good.”
I should have taken a bigger hit before, but what the hell. I do take the bottle of tequila, though, and swallow one more gulp as the elevator takes us up to the top floor that is apparently Aiden’s penthouse. My heart rises into my throat with each floor we ascend. Chris takes the bottle from me as I pull up on my belt loops. The pants I’m wearing are a bit too tight, squeezing my waist and cutting off circulation to my legs, but they make my ass look really thick and big. I almost didn’t wear the crop top I stole from my cousin, but I want to impress him. Problem is, Amelia, my cousin, is a small, though she wears a medium so her breasts don’t show underneath. Because I’m a solid large on top, it’s easy to say my breasts are peeking out the bottom in a way that would make my mom cringe.
But my mom isn’t here. Aiden is, and I want him to notice me.
I’ve known Aiden my whole life. There are pictures of him holding me when I was a baby and from every year at my birthday. He was such a big part of my life; he even babysat my little brothers when my sister Posey and I had hockey tournaments. Our families have always been so close, and I’ve been infatuated with him forever. I still remember the moment I knew I’d never want anyone else but him.
He came to the house in a badass Willie Nelson tee. I was learning the chords to “Georgia on My Mind,” and I wanted to gush to him that I was learning to play Willie Nelson’s version, but I was nervous he wouldn’t think I was as cool as he was. He was letting his hair grow long, and he had a faint mustache on his lip. He was downright gorgeous—unfairly gorgeous—so much older than me. He never even noticed me. I was just one of those Adler kids. Even when I begged my mom for a Willie tee because I wanted him to see me, to see that I loved Willie too, he didn’t.
He never noticed. It was like I was invisible to him.
In his defense, though, he was older and so busy keeping up with his grades and his skills on the ice. He never dated much—yes, that may make me a stalker for knowing that, but his mom always bragged about how he was so driven. He graduated early, went to college, and didn’t even finish the year before the NHL wanted him. He is absolutely amazing, and all I want is for him to see me.
To want me.
When I moved to New York, I was convinced our paths would cross. Surely, right? Nope. Never. Even when our moms tried to set us up for a group dinner, we were just too busy. It annoyed me so much because all I wanted was a chance. Once I was eighteen, I knew he couldn’t see me as a little girl anymore. But I never got the chance.
When the doors open, my heart is in my throat as I take in what’s before me. The party is in full swing, but I can’t ignore the spectacularness of the penthouse. It’s all glass. There are absolutely no walls, just glass looking out over the New York skyline. I wonder if Aiden walks around naked in here? Not that anyone would be able to see him; we’re so high up. The black furniture is sleek, modern, and ostentatious art hangs on the walls. A piano sits in the corner, the bench being used right now as a chair for a few girls, and I’m curious if Aiden plays.
“Yeah, it’s pretty awesome,” Chris says as we walk farther in. “He’s swimming in money.”
Of course he is. His entry-level contract was one of the highest salaries ever for a rookie. Reason being, everyone wanted him. And I mean everyone. He had his pick of teams, but he chose the Islanders. Mom didn’t have the salary cap for him, so the Assassins weren’t an option, which, of course, bummed me out. But then I moved to New York, he was traded to the Rangers, and things were supposed to change.
They didn’t. Though, maybe now they will.
I look around the party, hoping to spot him. I notice many of the Rangers’ players, along with some very gorgeous women. Puck bunnies, of course. I’ve been around this sport my whole life; I know them when I see them. My dad played in the NHL for close to fifteen years. With my mom being an owner, it’s easy to say I live, breathe, and sleep hockey, and if I’m honest, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love the sport.
A massive TV sandwiched between two stunning guitars captures my attention. From where I am standing, I’m pretty sure they’re Gibson electrics, and I want so badly to go over and check them out. When Chris’s hand grips my wrist, I look over to where he is pointing.
And there he is.
In all his gorgeous glory.
He stands taller than the group surrounding him. A mixed group of beautiful women, hockey players, and businessmen. He wears a black bomber jacket with a white tee underneath it. Even in his jacket, his shoulders are massive, while his waist is trim. His dress pants are tight on his thighs and low on his waist, but they are loose around his ankles. He’s barefoot, looking every bit like a Greek god. His gray eyes are spectacular from where I stand, with his long lashes kissing his cheeks every time he closes his eyes. While his dark brown hair is up in a messy ponytail, wavy pieces fall along his temple from where they’ve come out of the elastic. His chin is covered in thick, coarse hair, but I can tell his jaw is so chiseled and strong.
When he smiles, the world stops and all the air rushes out of me audibly. His teeth are so white, his face is so bright, and this all seems unreal. I move my hand to my other wrist, pinching myself hard. I can hear Chris laughing, but I don’t care.
“He’s expecting you.”
I shake my head. “No way,”
“Yeah, I told him you were coming.”
My stomach swirls. “Really?”
“Yeah,” he says with his easy grin. “Are you going to go say hi, then?”
I nod, though I don’t move. I hear my cousin Amelia in my head. She always teases me for never having the balls to go up to Aiden. But not today.
I inhale deeply, licking my lips as I watch him walk away from the group he was with. He moves through the crowd with a grin, a cup in his hand. He stops at a group of guys, and they each take a shot before his laughter fills the room. Over the music, over all the conversations, I hear him. He slaps hands with his friends, even nods at a girl who has her eyes on him. I assume he’s going to go to her, but he doesn’t. He steps to the side and pulls out his phone as he leans into the wall, taking a sip of his drink.
I know this is my chance.
My legs are moving before I even realize it. My heart is so loud, I can’t hear anything but it thudding in my chest. The way he’s leaning, his shirt has pulled up a bit on his stomach, showing off a naughty sliver of skin that makes my mouth dry. I swallow hard as I weave my way through the crowd, my gaze locked on him, hoping he doesn’t move. When he looks up, his eyes land on me, and good Lord, his eyes are hooded. The air is knocked out of me, but a grin moves across my lips.
This is it.
Aiden nips at his bottom lip as he slowly tucks his phone into his pocket. “Hey.”
“Hi,” I whisper, and his lips curve even more. “How are you?”
“I’m really good now that you’re here.” He takes a long sip of whatever is in his cup before licking his lips as he lowers the cup to his hip. “You came with Chris?”
I nod, but I can’t feel myself doing it. I feel as if I’m on autopilot, I’m so lost in his gray eyes. “I did.”
He pushes off the wall and takes a step toward me, towering over me in the sexiest way. Almost like a lion stalking its prey. His lips are so wet as he gazes down at me with those naughty, hooded eyes.
“You’re really fucking beautiful.”
I think I just died. Aiden Brooks just called me, Shelli Adler, really fucking beautiful. And not just beautiful. Fuckingbeautiful.
I mean, he’s isn’t wrong.
I have my dad’s eyes and my mom’s beauty. But knowing that about myself doesn’t mean my face doesn’t flush with color and my lips don’t curve into the brightest smile. Because it’s him. The guy I’ve crushed on for most of my life. He thinks I’m beautiful, when I thought he never even saw me. “Thank you.”
He looks me up and down, his eyes poring over me like the sweetest syrup. “Usually, Chris’s friends aren’t this gorgeous.”
The way he says friends is weird, but that’s neither here nor there. Aiden Brooks is looking at me, and I swear he sees me. He really sees me.
He grins, and Lord, he is so charming. A simple grin has my heart fluttering in my chest. “That’s one hell of a compliment. He’s brought a lot of girls through here.”
“This is my first time.” Well, no shit, Sherlock! He knows this. Why the hell did I say that? I’m such an idiot!
He reaches out, taking my hip in his grip. I look down at his hand as my body burns with fire from his touch. I have wanted to feel his hands on me for as long as I can remember. I look up at him, wide-eyed, as his white teeth blind me. “Believe me, it won’t be your last.”
I blink, and when my eyes open, it’s just in time to see his lips coming for mine. His hand moves to the middle of my back, pushing me into him as his lips capture mine. It’s like a siren is going off in my head as I fall into the kiss, my hands sliding up and around his neck to hold on for dear life.
Because Aiden Brooks is kissing me.