Violet Granger believes she’s been cursed when it comes to love.
And crushing on the new recruit? A hunky, former bull-riding champion who’s joined the NHL hockey team she mascots for, surely won’t help. He’s kind, sweet, and doesn’t seem to be bothered by the way her tongue twists up and her brain freezes whenever he’s around.
Leo Pattra knows nothing about curses or the way men leave Violet. But he’s certainly charmed by her quiet wit and shy awkwardness. He even finds that he misses her when they aren’t hanging out.
Only problem? Dating the team’s mascot won’t help him achieve the goals he’s laid out for himself, now that he’s got his family’s ranch debt under control.
But what if there’s another path to his goals? One that includes love? One that skirts the curse that has Violet in its hold? Just as long as he doesn’t find himself traded to another team this season…
This charming fish-out-of-water, friends-to-lovers, small town romance has all the feels. Come fall in love with the characters of Sweetheart Creek in this new heartwarming sweet romance series, Hockey Sweethearts. The books in this series can be read as standalones as well as in any order.
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“Kept me hooked until the very end and made me want more in the series!!” Alicia C
“Jean Oram… more than writes. She describes so you feel you are actually in the story. I loved this book.” KSurp
“Jean Oram has such a way of writing that you will laugh, cry, sputter, growl & sigh right along with the characters throughout her books.” Kambles
SNEAK PEEK OF PEACH BLOSSOM HOLLOW
Violet Granger pushed on the changing room door with her cumbersome costumed hands. Locked. She angled her head back to aim the costume’s eye holes at the number on the door. She’d left her street clothes in an even-numbered room.
At least she was pretty certain she had. After an hour of running around out in the hockey arena to get used to the bulky green and black dragon costume, she was a sweaty, frustrated mess.
Tempted to pull off the massive head so she could see and breathe better—even though that was supposedly forbidden outside the changing room—she waddled farther down the hallway, her dragon tail wagging after her.
She’d nearly died approximately five and a half times during this first in-costume practice out in the stands. The Dragons NHL team was in the process of hiring her a handler—which until today she hadn’t believed she’d truly need. But after falling down steps, getting her tail caught in elevator doors and knocking into the rows of seating, she was fully on board with enlisting as many handlers as possible so she wouldn’t make the news by dying in a dragon costume during a live NHL game.
Although maybe that would finally get Owen Lancaster’s attention.
She snorted. No. No thinking about Owen. She was over him. Stupid one-sided crush and his revived major league baseball career taking him away from Sweetheart Creek—and her. She’d finally felt she was getting somewhere with her shy flirting. And then he’d left.
Men always left—whether she was close to summoning the courage to ask one out, or they were standing at the altar about to say “I do.” Or, in her ex-fiancé’s case, “I don’t.”
This costume was part of a plan. An important, break-the-curse and heal her spirit kind of plan.
But the curse… Her grandmother had been left with three young toddlers in Korea when her husband announced he was going to Hollywood, and that it was no place for a nice Korean woman.
Then, years later, Violet’s mother had been left by her husband when a beautiful younger version had come along. A singer. Bold and gregarious. Loved to entertain.
Very unlike her loyal, quiet mom.
Violet herself had been left enough times to know she had to do something different—had to be someone different—in order to change the fate that had been handed to her by some cranky Korean gods her great-grandmother had allegedly snubbed by running away instead of accepting the husband chosen for her by her community.
And no, none of the woman in her family had given their partner a pair of shoes, which was a Korean superstition. Give them shoes, watch them run away from you. Although Violet wondered if there was an opposite superstition her mom hadn’t told her about. Maybe one where you gave your partner something like an anchor to make them stay.
But this dragon costume? It was a method, according to an online pop psychologist, to help Violet break out of her shyness in a safe way. She hadn’t always been this timid, but having love smack her down enough times… Well, a part of her spirit had just given up on her.
So to be different, she had to act different. Become different through action. With her new job as a mascot she was placing herself in a situation where she had to be gregarious and goofy, playing to the team’s fans. Wearing the costume would reacclimatize her to being the woman she once was, one not afraid of putting herself out there.
There would be no more locked jaw due to shyness. She would be free. And able to talk to hunky men.
Then she’d find love.
She’d show the curse she couldn’t be broken. She’d win. She’d break it.
And there were plenty of men here in this arena to test her new theory out on.
Potential love matches? Statistically, there had to be several.
Violet stopped in front of the next even-numbered locker room door.
Bliss. That’s what it would feel like to push her sweat-soaked hair off her forehead and out of her eyes. She’d feel so light and comfortable in her street clothes.
She placed her hands on the green door and inhaled. Oh, to have a refreshing shower and a nice long drink of cool water.
She pushed against the door. It opened an inch, then shut again. Violet let out a frustrated growl and heaved her entire five-foot-two-inch frame against the freshly painted metal. This time it gave easily, sending her flailing forward into the room, tripping on her large dragon feet and then plowing into a figure that stood between her and the cinderblock wall just beyond.
She landed face-first, her costume head sliding up and off as gravity tugged her downward. The man grabbed for her while she twisted, struggling to get her feet under her as the door banged against her leg. As Violet slid to the floor between the wall and a giant hockey bag she caught a glimpse of what she was certain were naked torsos and men in boxer shorts.
The floor smelled like used hockey equipment. But lovely music filled the air. A nice relaxing tune.
Splayed on her back, Violet closed her eyes, wishing her dragon head hadn’t come off in her tumble.
Worst day ever.
“Are you okay?” asked the man she’d fallen against.
Why had she taken this job?
Why had she decided she needed to push her way out of being who she’d become over the last two years? A quiet nobody shuffling papers for Mayor Nestner. That had been safe. It had been fine. Lonely, and not particularly exciting, unless the town armadillo, Bill, caused mischief and someone came to the mayor about it. But the job had been okay.
With a sigh she cracked one eyelid open, letting the man fussing over her come into focus. Hockey player. Kneeling. Looking concerned. His two front teeth were slightly crooked and he had kind, dark blue eyes. He was fresh-faced, ready to get onto the ice for practice.
And she was a sweaty mess. Violet scrunched her eyes shut again, wanting to pretend she was dead.
“Are you okay?” he repeated.
She swallowed hard, glancing up at him again. She knew this guy. Okay, she didn’t know him, but knew of him. Leo Pattra, former bull riding champion who was now playing in the National Hockey League, like switching professional sports was something people did all the time. He was a sweet, hunky hottie she’d be absolutely tongue-tied around should they ever meet.
And they were meeting.
He was standing over her, looking more and more concerned the longer she remained silent.
Maybe she could will herself to pass out until it was all over?
Violet sighed and tried to sit up, but her large dragon belly made it impossible to fold forward. She attempted to roll onto her side, but found herself wedged between the bag and the wall. She flopped back again, feeling like an upside-down turtle.
“Need help?” Leo asked, watching her with those lovely eyes. He held out his hand, but with her giant dragon-clawed paws she knew she couldn’t grasp it. Nor could she push her bangs out of her eyes so she could see better.
Maybe she could will herself to disappear, like how she’d pretended she was invisible when she was a kid.
Just close your eyes. Ignore the hunky man.
Yeah, pretending to be invisible hadn’t worked when she was a kid, either. Just resulted in a lot of teasing.
“Dezzie.” She blinked. “Dragons’ mascot.” Her voice had worked. She glanced back at Leo, then away. Maybe this costume acclimation idea wasn’t so bad, after all.
He smiled. “What’s your real name? And are you okay?” Carefully, still kneeling beside her, he peeled her sweat-plastered hair off her forehead and away from her eyes.
This would be a great time to disappear because…ew. Could she be any more disgusting?
That familiar shyness burned through her, locking down her ability to meet his eyes or speak. He was too cute. Too kind. Too caring.
And he didn’t seem to mind her sweat-plastered hair.
“You have a very pretty face,” he said gently. Without warning, he gripped her arms through the costume’s thick fabric like a seasoned livestock wrangler. Tingles zipped along her skin as if he’d electrocuted her, and for a moment she thought she’d broken something. Then she realized it was just the power of Hunky-hunk, who was now rolling to his heels with athletic ease, fluidly lifting himself onto his feet and pulling her along.
Yum. She loved a strong man. And one who gave her compliments was even better.
There was no chance she’d be able to speak to him. Ever. At all. Pop-psych couldn’t work on everything.
Feeling more eyes on her, she glanced over her shoulder. The locker room was full of curious, half-dressed San Antonio Dragons.
This would be a fantastic time for that invisibility thing to finally work.
© Copyright Jean Oram 2022
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(Also available in paperback and large print!)
Audio available on Google Play Audio.