Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blogging From the Heart: A Romance Novella by Mona Ingram

Blogging From the Heart: A Romance Novella by Mona Ingram
$1.99 or FREE for Prime Members

NOTE: this book was previously released as Between a Jock and a Hard Place.

Even though she's surrounded by hockey-crazed family and friends, Claire doesn't follow the Vancouver Canucks. Her brother has played hockey all of his life and has a promising career in the minors, but that's as far as her interest goes. So when she meets a large, handsome man with a broken nose she doesn't recognize him as a key player for the Canucks.

Jack is intrigued with the notion of getting to know a woman who doesn't know who he is; someone who isn't attracted to him because of his fame.

When Claire's brother Cam is injured in a hockey game, she offers to blog anonymously for a local newspaper about the hot-button topic violence in hockey, unaware that Jack will be presenting the opposing view.

Meanwhile, the attraction grows between Claire and Jack, but can they survive the inevitable clash as they discover each other's true identity?

Blogging From the Heart is a novella-length Sweet Romance, at slightly over 25,000 words.

Excerpt from Blogging From the Heart

Set-up: Claire’s twin brother, a hockey player, has been injured in a game and she has agreed to blog about violence in hockey for a local Vancouver newspaper.

Her opening salvo was critical. She may not be an experienced writer, but she knew that she had to grab the reader’s attention with her first sentence. With a groan of frustration she got up and walked to the window. The sun had burned off the morning mist and the ocean glittered with reflected sunshine. Maybe what she needed was a walk to clear her head. Just a short walk along the seawall and then she’d come back inspired and make a fresh start.
It was sunny but cool. She pulled on a turtle neck sweater, a pair of sweats and a fleece jacket. Her oldest, most comfortable walkers completed the outfit.
It seemed as though half the population of the West End had decided on a walk, but that didn’t surprise her. Vancouverites knew enough to take advantage of days like this. Who knew when the next one would come around? The constant hum of traffic faded into the background as she made her way along the seawall, past the yacht basin. Seagulls swirled overhead, their cries blending with the clink of rigging against metal masts. She smiled and walked closer to the railing. If Zoey were here, she’d be on her case for checking out the boats instead of the men jogging past. She glanced out of the corner of her eye. Especially that one. She couldn’t see his face very well, hidden as it was by a hoodie, but he was tall, broad-shouldered, and moved like an athlete.
Forget it, she told herself as he jogged past. I’m not interested in him or any other man.
So why had her heart ratcheted up at the sight of him?
You’re pathetic she told herself and pushed away from the railing to continue her walk.
She didn’t see it coming...literally. One moment she was walking along, trying to focus on the blog and the next she was sprawled on the pavement.
The biker stopped, but remained on his bike. “Hey, you should watch where you’re going,” he said angrily.
Me? Look who’s talking. You’re not supposed to be riding a bike along here.” She pulled herself up into a sitting position. “There are bike lanes for people like you.”
Get a life, bitch.” He pushed off and rode away.
Claire shook her head in disbelief. “Stupid ass,” she muttered.
May I offer you a hand, or would that make me a stupid ass too?”
She looked up to see the man in the black hoodie. He had his hand out but it was his face she was drawn to. How could someone be so appealing when their nose had obviously been broken? His smile was dazzling. “Come on” he said, wiggling his fingers. “At least let me help you up.”
She placed her hand in his and a jolt of electricity zinged through her body. The sensation was so unexpected she didn’t even notice the pain in her ankle. That is, until she put her weight on it and almost collapsed. He caught her in his arms and looked down into her eyes, his expression a mixture of surprise and concern.
You’re hurt,” he said, still holding her.
Claire wanted to tell him that if he kissed her, she was pretty sure the pain would disappear. Instead, she pulled back and put her weight on her good foot. “I must have fallen on it” she said, somewhat breathlessly, “but it’s not all that bad.” She looked back toward her apartment building; she could see a slice of it between the other buildings. “I can put my weight on it if I try.”
Let me take you home,” he said, supporting her easily. “My car is over there in the parking lot.”
She frowned. “Isn’t that a private lot?”
He grinned. “Yes. Lucky for us, huh?” He kept an arm around her waist and they made their way to his SUV, where he fussed over her, settling her in the passenger seat.
He’d pushed back the hood of his sweatshirt and when he walked in front of the vehicle, the sun caught his hair. So black it was almost blue, it covered his head in curls and her fingers tensed as she imagined herself touching it. He looked up as though he knew she’d been studying him and their gazes met though the windshield. Rough stubble covered his cheeks and she discovered that his eyes, which she’d originally thought were black, were a dark blue. She didn’t think she’d ever seen anyone with eyes that colour.
He got into the vehicle and turned to her. “Do you have to go right home?”
No, I thought I’d go dancing.” The words were out before she could stop them. What was the matter with her? “Sorry,” she muttered. “I don’t know what made me say that.”
He didn’t seem to mind. “I’m just relieved that we don’t have to go dancing,” he said with a wry smile. “But if your ankle really isn’t too bad I thought maybe we could go for a coffee.” He looked into her eyes and her stomach did a little flip. “Or a tea, perhaps. We could drive up to Prospect Point and grab some takeout then continue around the park.”
Was he crazy to think she’d go off with him? She couldn’t possibly.
Okay,” she said. “I’d like that.”
He smiled and pulled out. Traffic through the park was busy as usual and they were swept along. A few minutes later he pulled into the parking lot at Prospect Point. “What can I get you?” he asked.
A tea, I think. Two milk, no sugar. And something to nibble on if they have anything small. Chocolate chip cookie or something like that.” She dug in her purse. “I’d like to pay, if you don’t mind.”
He gave her an odd look. “No way.”
She gave in gracefully. “Shall I limp over to one of those tables?”
He glanced at the outdoor tables. “I’d rather stop farther along. There are a couple of picnic tables overlooking the water.” He lifted his shoulders. “If you don’t mind, that is.”
I guess that’s okay.” She studied him as he made his way to the counter. The line-up moved quickly, and she noticed him chatting to several people as he waited. One woman seemed to be taking his picture with her husband, and then he took their picture. And then another couple got in on the act. Pictures were being taken all around. He came back bearing a cardboard tray with two cups and a couple of snacks.
Were those people taking your picture?” she asked.
He coloured. “You saw that, did you? I offered to take one of them together and then everybody was taking everyone else. They were Swedes, I think. They’re polite people.” He handed her the tray. “No cookies, I’m afraid. But I got you a Rice Krispie square and a package of Twinkies.”
My favourites,” she said. “Do I have to share?”
Not really” he said, “although I am rather partial to Twinkies and there are two in the package.”
Claire fell silent as they drove around the knob of land that was Stanley Park. His actions were vaguely reminiscent of Harrison’s. He’d never wanted to go where there were crowds of people. It wasn’t until later that she’d realized that he didn’t want to be seen by anyone who knew his wife.
Penny for your thoughts.”
Startled out of her reverie, she turned to face him. She couldn’t ask him point blank...could she?
I was just wondering if you’re married.” Might as well get it over with.
Me?” A horrified look spread over his face. “Definitely not!”
The reply was so emphatic it had to be the truth. She smiled to herself. “I apologize for asking such a personal question, but when you said you didn’t want to stay at Prospect Point it reminded me of someone.” She lowered her head. “Wow, I’ve really dug myself a hole, haven’t I?”
She could feel him looking at her but he remained silent.
I had a bad experience with a married man. He never wanted to go anywhere if he thought he might run into people.” She looked out the window. “I can’t believe I just told you that.”
He nodded. “I can see how something like that would make you cautious, but no, I can assure you I’m not married.” He pulled off into a small parking lot. “See that picnic table over there?” He pointed to a table sheltered by a thick hedge, but with a view of the ocean. “Do you think you can make it that far? I’ll carry the drinks over and come back for you.” He didn’t wait for her reply but took the tray from her and walked it over to the table.
Okay now, we’ll take this part nice and easy.” He helped her from the vehicle and they made their way to the table. “Sit sideways and put your leg up on the bench,” he commanded. “I want to take a look at that ankle.”
Claire was mortified by the condition of her old shoes, but she raised her leg.
Can’t see much,” he muttered. “Do you mind if I take off your shoe?”
She went to pull back, but he had a firm hold on her calf. “I really should have a look.”
She watched his hands as he rotated her foot gently back and forth. They were large as befitted a man of his size. And yet they were gentle as he prodded around her ankle. “Sore?”
A bit, but not as bad as it was.”
He slipped her shoe back on, pulled up her sock and tied her shoe laces. His hair shone in the sunshine and she wanted to reach out and touch it.
His hand lingered for a moment. “Do you have to stand up when you work?”
No, I’m a graphic designer. I work from home.”
His eyes lit up. “My kid sister’s a graphic designer. She works for a magazine in Toronto.” He got up from the bench and moved around to the other side of the table. “My name’s John, by the way.” He popped the lid on his tea and took a sip, watching her over the rim.
I’m Claire.”
He’d positioned her so that she looked out over the ocean. Container ships dotted the horizon. “I don’t know what it is about the ocean, but I love it.”
Me, too.” He turned and looked out, then turned back to her. “I grew up in Saskatchewan, so living out here is a real treat.”
The way you were talking with all those people at the coffee place I thought maybe you’d grown up around here.”
He retreated into himself for a moment and then shrugged. “Just friendly chit chat.”
There was something about the way he spoke, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “Here,” she said, pushing the Twinkies across the table. “You have the Twinkies and I’ll have the Rice Krispie square. That is unless you’d like to share.”
His eyes danced. “Sharing’s good.”
She tore the sticky treat in half and accepted one of the Twinkies. “So, John. What made you move from Saskatchewan to Vancouver?”
Work.” He took a large bite of Twinkie.
What kind of work?”
He swallowed, and washed it down with a gulp of tea. “I sell sporting equipment.”
Do you like it?”
I do, except for all the travel.”
So you travel a lot?” She stopped abruptly. “You know, I’m beginning to sound like I’m at one of those speed dating things.”
Is that what this is?” He raised an eyebrow in challenge. “A date?”
No, not at all.” Now she was getting flustered. “Listen, I’m not usually this nosy, trust me. Do you think I could blame it on the ankle?”
There was that smile again. “You could try.” He raised his cup and took a smaller sip this time. “How about you? Are you from around here?”
Oh yeah. I’m a Vancouver girl. Grew up in West Vancouver.”
I have a twin brother.” Her thoughts turned to Cam, who’d been discharged from hospital yesterday. He’d agreed to spend a week with their parents but she knew he wouldn’t last much longer than that. He’d been living on his own too long and was set in his bachelor ways.
A twin. Wow. Is it true what they say? Do you like the same things?”
She thought for a moment before replying. “We have the same quirky sense of humour, and we’re both a little stubborn, but I don’t share his main passion.”
And what’s that?”
He pulled back as though personally offended. “You don’t like hockey?”
You see?” She edged forward on the bench. “That’s exactly what I’ve been up against my whole life. My brother was skating as soon as he could walk and my Dad was one of those hockey parents who supported him every inch of the way. He loves the sport. It’s the main topic of conversation in our house all year round.”
She was coming dangerously close to spilling the beans about Cam, and his injury. But she couldn’t risk anyone connecting her with the blog...not if she was to maintain her anonymity.
So you hate the game? Do you ever watch?”
I didn’t say I hate it. I’m just up to here with it.” She tapped herself under the chin. “Although I have been known to go to sports bars once in a while. With my girlfriend and her fiancĂ©, not on my own.” She paused. “But even then, I don’t watch. Do you ever go to sports bars?”
He looked amused. “No.” It came out slowly.
She leaned forward again. “Did you know that even the women dress up in those ridiculous Canucks shirts? As a matter of fact I’ve heard that they sell as many to women as they do to the men.”
He seemed to be trying not to smile. “Yes, I’ve heard that too.”
They were both silent for a few moments. It felt comfortable, sitting here with him in the sunshine. She wished it could go on forever.
Claire was the first to break the silence. “Could I ask you something?”
He nodded. She liked the fact that he didn’t always need to speak.
Do you think there’s too much violence in hockey?”
Something shifted behind his eyes. “That’s a hot topic right now.” He looked into his cup, tossed out the remaining liquid and crumpled it in one large hand. “Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s one clear-cut answer. To lump every situation together under the umbrella of violence doesn’t do justice to the individual cases.”
She snorted. “That sounds like some sort of a slick, prepared statement.”
Was that a flash of anger in his eyes? He placed both forearms on the table. “I will admit I’ve thought a lot about it. After all, I am closely connected with the industry.” His gaze held hers. “I’ll tell you what’s violent. A little over a week ago, a young player from the minor leagues suffered a late hit. The latest news is that he’ll be out for the rest of the year. Now I call that violent.”
Claire sucked in a breath of air but he didn’t seem to notice. He was on a roll.
Hockey is a physical game; that’s all there is to it. There are body checks, and there is fighting. The players egg each other on with what they call ‘trash talk’ and fights are inevitable, sometimes even planned. If you’d watch a game you’d see the fans come alive when there’s a fight. Even the players seem to approve. During a fight you’ll see both teams standing up pounding their sticks against the boards.” He sat back, seemed to deflate a little. “That’s the reality of the game. I’m not saying I approve, but that’s the way it is.”
But not all of the players fight. Tony was saying the other night that Daniel and Henrik hardly ever fight. Why is that?”
He looked exasperated. “Because the Sedins are too valuable. We... The Canucks, that is, can’t afford to have them out of the line-up. That’s why teams hire defencemen with muscle. There’s always at least one ‘enforcer’ on a hockey team. Hit our top scorers, we’ll hit you back harder. That sort of thing.”
Claire considered his words. “I suppose I knew that, but it’s never been explained to me quite that well. Not that you’ve changed my mind about the fighting. I still don’t like that part of the game.”
Who’s Tony?” He was toying with the scrunched-up cup.
Huh?” the abrupt change of topic startled her. “Oh, Tony. That’s Zoey’s fiancĂ©.”
He nodded. “And Zoey is your friend?” One side of his mouth hiked up. “I like to keep the line-up straight in my head.”
Yes, she’s my friend.” Claire was relieved to see him smile. “So how did you get that broken nose?”
He fingered the break. “You’re going to love this. Hockey.” He held up a hand before she could say anything. “I ran into my best buddy’s stick.” He touched it again and he smiled, reliving the moment. “I can still hear the sound it made. Anyway, my parents were away and I insisted that it wasn’t too bad, that I could tape it up myself.” He grinned. “Well, you can see what a great job I did.”
Claire tilted her head to one side. “I dunno. I kind of like it.”
Sure you do.”
Yeah, I do,” she said, suddenly breathless. She made a show of looking at her watch. “Guess I’d better get home. I have work to do. I just went out for a quick walk to clear my head.” She was babbling, but couldn’t seem to stop.
Before we leave could I ask you a question?” He grinned. “Since we’re telling our life stories.”
Is that what we’re doing?” She wished he wasn’t so damned good looking; he had her at a disadvantage. “You can ask. I’m not sure if I’ll answer.”
He acknowledged by raising his eyebrows. “I was wondering about that married man.”
She looked at him for a long time before she decided to answer. She’d brought it up, after all.
It’s embarrassing.” She couldn’t meet his eyes. “I didn’t know he was married when I first met him. He told me a couple of weeks later, but he also told me a pack of lies.”
Seems to me he’s the one who should be embarrassed, not you.”
She shot him a quick glance, and then looked away again. “No, I’m embarrassed because I believed him when he told me he was getting a divorce. It’s only the oldest line in the world, but I swallowed it.” She ran her fingernail up and down the Styrofoam cup, making a pattern of ridges. “When I saw him with his wife and realized that they were still very much together I thought I’d never be able to trust a man again.” She looked into his eyes. “It’s been hard.”

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