I thought you guys might like a little taste of what Lucky Number is all about. I love Brandon and Hannah, and all of the twists and turns they endure on the road to happily-ever-after. This is a slow-burn romance, and the longest book I've ever written. Enjoy the glimpse into their world.
“Tilt your head down, Hannah. That’s it. Now, look at me.” Eden snapped another photo, then frowned. “Geez. You’re stiff as fuck. Pretend the camera is a man. Flirt with it.”
Hannah huffed, blowing her bangs up in frustration. “That’s the oldest line in the book. Besides, I’m not a model, Eden. I feel ridiculous.”
“What’s ridiculous is that you won’t relax.”
Standing in the living room of Eden’s off-campus apartment wearing a powder blue bra and matching lace underwear wasn’t how she’d originally envisioned spending the evening—especially when her Las Vegas Kingsnakes were playing San Jose tonight. She could be at home right now, in her yoga pants with a bag of popcorn in hand, cheering her hockey team on to victory.
“Come on. You’re not naked, nerd! You’re in lingerie made by me. My collection is smoking hot, and so are you. Wipe the damn constipated look off of your face already.”
The comment took Hannah by surprise, and she burst out laughing.
Eden quickly snapped a few more photos and handed her a tube of mascara. “Much better, but put some of this on. I need those big hazel eyes on display.”
“Leave it to you to be a triple threat: photographer, fashion designer and comedian,” Hannah said dryly, unscrewing the cap.
Eden made a tsk noise. “I’m a failed photographer. But the skills from that abandoned degree come in handy. I need to prove to potential employers that I can do this, Hannah. That I’m a talented enough designer to take a chance on, you know?”
A flicker of doubt passed over her best friend’s pretty face. Eden Stravecchio projected an enviable confidence to the world 98 percent of the time. Only with Hannah did she occasionally let her guard down and reveal the other two percent.
“You’ll do great,” Hannah assured her. “You’re talented, and your creations are beautiful. Switching to a college that specializes in fashion design was the right decision, even though I miss seeing you every day. I feel sexy when I wear your lingerie, and it’s comfortable. Companies will be begging for your stuff.”
Eden put the camera down and fluffed Hannah’s hair. “We’ll see. Damn, I’d give anything for your gorgeous locks, you know that, right? Thick, long, and the color of melted caramel.” Eden sighed. “Somehow, I got stuck with this thin, flyaway, black mop.”
Hannah rolled her eyes. “Please. I’d give anything to be able to rock your edgy haircuts.”
“Well, I need sexy hair for these photos so swish that silky mane around, woman. Work it!”
“Babe, like I said, I’m not a model.”
“So? You’ve got a banging body, Han. And a killer rack. If you stopped burying the twins under those shapeless hockey jerseys, guys on campus would be panting after you like a pack of wolves on the hunt.”
Hannah playfully slapped Eden’s hand away from her hair. “Riiiight. You know I have to represent my Kingsnakes. Hockey’s my thing.”
“I know, but is it worth your social life? It’s been six months since you broke up with Cameron, Hannah. Your vag is going to shrivel up and go into hibernation if you don’t take action soon. Your honeypot will be more like a honeynot.”
“Honeypot?” Hannah sputtered. “Who the hell even says that anymore?”
“Don’t dodge my question.”
“I don’t need any more boyfriends like Cam,” Hannah told her. “Hockey’s never broken my heart.”
She’d found Cameron in his dorm room making out with Janelle Appleton—a tall, gorgeous, blonde cheerleader. Competing with a woman like that was impossible, considering she was the exact opposite: short, curvy, and stacked.
Seeing Janelle on her boyfriend's bed with her legs wrapped around his back had driven that message home. She’d told them both to fuck off and stomped out, slamming the door behind her.
It had been an awful, ugly scene.
“Is he still begging you to get back together with him?”
“Unfortunately. Cam’s stubborn.”
Eden picked up the camera. “And there’s the constipated face again. Don't think of that dickhead while I take photos!” She cocked her head. “Think of that hot guy.”
“Care to narrow that down a bit?”
“You know, that hockey guy you love. Brandon WhatsHisFace. Pretend you’re on a beach with him. Or in bed with him.”
“Lear,” Hannah murmured.
Heat crept into her cheeks at the mere mention of Brandon “Jet” Lear, the second line center on her favorite hockey team, the Las Vegas Kingsnakes. She’d followed his career since she was sixteen years old. Back then, he’d played for New York. Sometimes she’d take the bus with her friend from upstate into the city just to see him play.
He was one of the best centers in the entire league. On any other team, he’d play on the first line, but the Kingsnakes were such a deep team that he’d been moved to the second.
Last season, the Kingsnakes had made it all the way to the Western Conference finals before being knocked out by Los Angeles. She’d cried after that game, seeing the dejected looks on their faces as they went through the obligatory end-of-series handshake line. But the Kingsnakes were too good of a team to be kept down for long. They’d be back—taking another run at the Cup when the playoffs rolled around.
“Look at me,” Eden commanded.
Hannah peeked up through her lashes at the camera, and Eden hissed out a breath.
“Yes, that’s it! I’m glad you left your glasses on for this shoot. It screams sexy librarian. A sexy librarian who’s getting felt up by the hockey hottie in the Reference section.”
“Oh, how I wish,” Hannah said, laughing.
“Tell me what you like about him.”
“He’s one of the best centers in the league."
“He plays such a cerebral game,” Hannah said, excitement sweeping through her as she began talking about her first love—hockey. Forget trying to find a man at University. Give her a hockey game over a date any day. “He’s not only great at setting up his wingers—”
“Right,” Eden interrupted. “But what about his looks? Does he have any hot dick pics floating around on the internet?”
Hannah made a face. “Ugh! If he does, I don’t want to know about it. Dick pics are not hot. Seeing a dick out of context is just disturbing.”
“Out of context?” Eden started laughing. “What?”
“It’s one thing if you’re getting hot and heavy with a guy and suddenly there it is, waving hello. That can be totally hot. But an up close and personal photo? Uh-uh.”
Eden put a hand on her hip. “Okay, but he’s hot, right? You have all of his shirts and jerseys. Plus, two posters of him in your dorm room.”
“One of those posters is of the whole team,” she said defensively. “But yeah, Brandon is hot.”
That was the understatement of the year. Brandon Lear was smokin’ hot. His long, dark hair always seemed to be in his face, and his bright blue eyes were the most beautiful she’d ever seen on a man. Not to mention, he had a ridiculously sexy deep voice that made her stomach flutter.
She loved watching interviews with him after games when he was all hot and sweaty, his long, damp hair hanging in his face. His sexy baritone rolled over her as he explained what had gone right or wrong during three periods of hockey. Though she was interested in his perspective on the game, he could have read the phone book and she’d still get all swoony over the sound of his voice.
She often wondered what it would be like having him whisper in her ear. God, she could probably come from the sound of his voice alone. And sometimes, she’d daydream about what his big, capable hands would feel like as they slid down over her hips, pulling her against that broad, muscular chest....
Once, at a Kingsnakes practice, she’d stood near the boards watching the team go over various types of drills. He’d paused near the glass, and their eyes had met for a few brief seconds. She’d frozen like a terrified deer in oncoming headlights—unable to turn away from those stunning blue eyes that held her captive with a mere glance.
At that moment, he’d known exactly what kind of effect he’d had on her. A tiny smile had played around his lips before he’d slowly skated away. The man could reduce women to a pile of goo with just one look. It was the reason the team store frequently had a shortage of Lear jerseys in stock. The Lear Effect—that’s what she’d named it—was a very real, very potent thing.
She’d replayed that moment over and over in her mind, editing the outcome to her liking late at night beneath the covers in the darkness of her dorm room. Thank God her roommate spent most nights away at her boyfriend’s apartment. The last thing she needed was someone eavesdropping on her and her battery-operated boyfriend.
Eden began rapidly snapping photos. “Whatever you’re thinking, Han, stay in that zone.”
Hannah bit down her lip, desperate to clench her thighs together and relieve the ache that always began when she thought of him. Her teenaged crush on Brandon Lear was still going strong and showed no signs of stopping, even seven years later.
Ten minutes later, Eden put the camera down. “Woohoo! We got it!”
Hannah threw her arms in the air dramatically. “Yay!”
“See? Thinking about the hockey hottie worked like a charm.”
Hannah took a seat on the couch. “His name is Brandon.”
“Brandon,” Eden mimicked in a syrupy sweet voice. “Woman, you’ve got it bad.”
“I know,” she sighed. “His sister’s in my literature class. She looks nothing like him. She’s short and has blonde hair, and he’s tall, dark, and handsome. I didn't even realize she was related until the professor asked about her brother.”
“Do you ever talk to her about him?”
“God, no. She has enough hangers-on to deal with every day. She doesn’t seem to mind people talking to her about him, but I don’t wear Kingsnakes gear when I have that class. I don’t want her to be uncomfortable.”
“So, your bodacious rack isn’t buried under a boxy hockey jersey at least one day out of the week. Men of Las Vegas University, rejoice!”
“Oh, please. The guys at LVU don’t qualify as men,” Hannah said, waving a hand. At 22, she felt light-years older than the guys who shared her classes. They seemed like a bunch of overgrown teenagers.
“Han, I’d be willing to bet you’ve been 40 years old since you were twelve,” Eden replied, fiddling with her computer. “You were born an old soul and blessed with a disgusting sense of organization and responsibility, which I wish I could bottle and sell.”
Hannah cocked an eyebrow. “Um, thanks?”
“I’ll send you a bunch of these photos tonight, then tell me which ones you like best.”
“Sure.” Hannah grabbed her clothes. “I’m heading out. I have to finish working on a new planner video for my ZeeTube channel.”
“I wish you’d given your channel a catchier title.”
“Pretty Paper Planning with Hannah makes it clear what the channel is about,” she said defensively. “I make videos about paper planners.” She shrugged. “It fits.”
“I guess so. How many subscribers do you have now?”
“I’m 30 subscribers away from my first fifty thousand.”
“Holy shit,” Eden replied, her perfect black eyebrows rising. “Awesome. So what does that mean? Still planning on moving to NYC to work for Jamie’s company after graduation?”
“Honestly? It’s not likely.”
Since freshman year of high school, she’d planned on working for her older brother’s P.R. firm. He’d gotten her interested in business, and she’d idolized him growing up. That’s why she’d worked so hard at maintaining her 4.0 GPA all through University. Jamie could be as tough on her as her dad was, and nepotism wouldn’t earn her a position at his company.
But with her ZeeTube channel taking off over the past year, her interest had shifted, and she was seriously tempted to grow her own business.
“I hope you stay. I love New York, but I don’t want my bestie living more than ten minutes away. Cramps my style,” Eden told her.
She pulled her Kingsnakes t-shirt over her head. “I have one semester left to prove to my father that I can make a go of my planner business. And a lot can happen in the next five months.”
“True. You could get even more successful.”
That’s what she hoped would happen. After taking a few graphic design electives, she’d started creating planner add-ons and stickers to sell on her website. To her delight, they were an instant hit. She’d made enough money to quit her part-time job at the University’s cafe and could now help pay down the stack of her mother’s extensive medical bills.
“Han, I’m emailing you the photos now. By the way, I had to get a new phone number earlier today.” Eden hastily scribbled down her new phone number on the back of an envelope and handed it to her. “Too many collection calls.”
Hannah cringed. Eden’s mother had gone on an unauthorized spending spree eight months ago with Eden’s only credit card.
“How much damage did she do to your balance, babe?”
Eden’s cheeks pinked. “Eight grand in one day. I can’t even make the minimum payment. On top of the balance I was already carrying....”
“Oh, Eden,” Hannah murmured. She hated how Eden’s mother took advantage of her, but knew better than to bring it up to her friend. Eden was defensive about her mother to a fault. “I’m so sorry. Do you need a loan to cover your minimum payment?”
“No,” Eden said firmly, holding up her hands. “I’ll be fine.”
“I’m here if you need me,” Hannah told her, punching Eden's new number into her cell phone contact list.
“Okay, I’m taking off for real.” Hannah hugged her. “I’ll text you later and tell you which photos I like best. But first I have to go over to the ’rents house before heading back to the dorm.”
“You did great today, Han.”
Hannah hoisted her knapsack over her shoulder and grinned. “Full-time student, entrepreneur, and now part-time lingerie model. I can add that to my résumé, right?”
“Damn straight!” Eden said, grinning. “Later, doll.”
Hannah unlocked her parents’ front door and tiptoed inside. Her mom was probably in bed already, even though it was only 8:30. She was still fragile from her recent cancer surgery.
She poked her head into the living room where her father was watching the Kingsnakes game.
“Hey, Papa Bear. What’s the score?”
Her father lounged in his easy chair with a beer in his hand and feet propped up on the ottoman.
“Hey, kiddo. Two–one, Kingsnakes. San Jose is giving them a hell of a battle.”
“We always have a tough time with San Jose on the road. Our record playing them at home is better.” Hannah tossed her knapsack on the floor. “Who scored for us?”
“Lear and O’Bryan.” Her father took a sip of his beer. “Why aren’t you at home watching this game? It’s not like you to miss a single second.”
The last thing she wanted to tell her father was that she’d been getting sexy photos taken in lingerie for Eden’s portfolio website. He wasn’t Eden’s biggest fan and would lose his mind if he knew the entire world was going to be seeing his daughter in her underwear. If he knew, he’d probably try and ground her despite her age.
“Trust me, I would have rather been watching the game, but I had a school project to work on,” she said carefully. “I have something for you though.” She pulled a small stack of money from her knapsack and handed it to her father.
He waved a hand. “Keep it.”
“Dad,” she said firmly. “Pay one of the smaller hospital bills with it. Please.”
He sighed and plucked the money from her fingers. “When are you going to let me take care of you for a change?”
“Hush.” Hannah glanced over at him as the game went to commercial break. “How’s Mom doing tonight?”
“Tired. Same as every other night. But her scans are clean, and that’s all that matters. I can handle the rest.”
Her mother had gone through three surgeries in the past four years—one for skin cancer and two for colon cancer. She’d also had intense chemotherapy. There was always a possibility either would recur in the future, but for now, they were optimistic.
“I can’t stay long,” Hannah said. “I wanted to come over and talk to you about something.”
Hannah took a deep breath. “Dad, I don’t think I want to go to New York after graduation.”
Her father glanced in her direction, a hard look in his brown eyes. “Hannah, you’ve worked your entire high school and University career to be able to go to New York. I get that your little business is doing well, but—”
“It’s doing incredibly well, Dad,” she said, trying to keep her frustration contained. “I just think—”
“I think that you need to wait until after you graduate to evaluate everything,” he interrupted. “For now, you need to stay the course.”
“Daddy, you aren’t listening to me,” she said quietly.
“Don’t ‘Daddy’ me, Hannah,” he snapped, slamming his hand down on the arm of the chair. “You’ve been stuck here dealing with all of this shit for too damned long. The surgeries, the treatments, the constant caregiving when I had to work. I know you, little girl. If you don’t go now, you won’t ever go. Why do you think I insisted on you staying in the dorms instead of living at home? Staying in Las Vegas because you’re worried about your mother’s health won't move you forward. It’s my job to handle that stuff, not yours.”
“I don’t mind being here for you and mom,” she argued. “She’s my mother. Did you ever consider that I don’t want to be away from her right now?”
“Did you ever consider how she feels?” he countered. “She doesn’t want to hold you back, Hannah.”
“Fine,” she muttered. “I’ll wait until after graduation to make my decision.” It wasn’t exactly the truth because her mind was already made up, but he wasn’t going to listen to her now. Not after his passionate speech.
“Good.” He turned his attention back to the game, the issue dismissed.
She bent over, grabbed her knapsack, and hoisted it over her shoulder. “I should get back to the dorm, but I’m going to go see if she’s awake, okay?”
“Okay. Be careful going back to school.”
Rounding the corner, she tiptoed down the hall and quietly opened the door to her parents’ bedroom. Her mother was fast asleep in bed, looking frail and ten years younger than her 55 years in the soft light of the flickering old television.
Drawing in a deep breath, she closed the door and headed back down the hall, waving to her father on her way out.
Pausing on the front porch, she dragged her hands over her face and glanced over at her mother’s bedroom window. Seeing her mom still so weak was difficult. She knew there was an extensive road of healing ahead for her, along with more tests and endless doctor’s appointments.
Her father’s accounting job allowed him the luxury of working from home at the moment, but he was always distracted. Caring for her mother took a lot of time, and she couldn’t imagine not being around to help her parents. That was one of the main reasons she’d decided against going to New York.
Come graduation, her father wasn’t going to be happy with her decision, but she knew remaining in Las Vegas was the right thing for her family and for her future. And she wasn't about to change her mind.
A few hours later, she’d put the finishing touches on her latest planner video before climbing into bed. Her roommate, Anna, was sleeping at her boyfriend’s apartment off-campus tonight—which was an especially nice bonus when she needed quiet to film her videos.
She grabbed her cell phone off of the nightstand and flipped through the pictures Eden had emailed over. Even though she didn’t consider herself model material, she had to admit she looked good. And Eden was right; her rack did look fantastic. She picked out a few favorites and attached them in a text to send back to Eden.
Hannah: Okay, what do you think? These are my favorites of the lot. And yes, my rack is spectacular in these photos. <silly face emoji>
Eden didn't reply after a few minutes, so she tossed the phone down on the bed and slipped under the covers with her iPad to catch up on her favorite Netflix shows. She was almost asleep when her phone buzzed with a text. Yawning, she picked it up and stared at the screen with bleary eyes.
Unknown Number: I think the photos are fucking hot fire, sweetheart. And your rack is beyond spectacular. But refresh my memory: how exactly did you get my number?
“Oh, shit!" She dropped the phone onto the floor like it was on fire, staring at it in horror. “No, no, no!”
Eden must have written down the wrong phone number, because whoever she’d just sent her half-naked photos to, it definitely wasn’t her best friend.
Copyright ©2017 Jennifer Lazaris. No part of the above excerpt may be reproduced for any reason without express written consent from the author, Jennifer Lazaris.