Featuring Leo and Kelsey from Fighting For More.
The sun shined in the cloudless sky, a deceptive picture of warmth amid the icy cold air. Leo whistled as he drove away from the rink. The team had held a good practice. They were coming off a win from the previous night, where he’d scored a goal and gotten an assist. The coach was pleased with their efforts. He didn’t have any community outreach or PR commitments scheduled. The rest of the afternoon and evening stretched out before him and he couldn't wait to spend it with Kelsey.
He pulled into the parking lot of Jolt coffee shop. The post-practice pick-me-up had become a ritual for him and half the team, but today, only Rod followed him through the shop’s doors.
Hearts decorated every surface as though Valentine’s Day had exploded inside the coffee shop. A paper chain of hearts hung around the perimeter of the ceiling. 3-D hearts in pink, red, and purple were on every table, hearts were drawn on the chalkboard of the daily specials, and there were heart-shaped mugs in every patrons’ hands.
Jolt’s owner and Rod’s oldest friend, Ben, greeted them from behind the counter. “Want your usuals? How was practice?”
“Painful.” Rod held a hand to his chest. “Noah got me with one of his monster slap shots. I know I have a bruise. It’s probably the size of a softball by now.”
“It is not, you big baby.” Smiling, Leo shook his head. “I’ll have my usual, Ben, and a latte too. Kelsey’s meeting me here soon.”
Rod glared at him, rubbing his hand in a circle over the puffy down jacket. “You want to strap on the pads tomorrow and let him take another shot like that at close range?”
“No way.” Noah had one of the hardest shots in the league. Other goalies winced when talking about it. Leo draped his arm around Rod’s shoulder. His friend’s chest probably was sore. It was time to stop teasing. “Rod’s order is on me today, Ben.”
Rod’s features brightened like the sun peeking through storm clouds. He nodded, recognizing the apology. “Thanks, buddy.”
Ben waved to the display case. “We have heart-shaped brownies today too. Our Valentine’s Day special.”
Rod’s mouth twisted and he raised a brow at Leo. “Though I’m tempted to buy all thirty-six, thanks to my friend’s generosity here, I’ll take two along with two large coffees. To-go cups for me. I have to get home.”
Laughing, Leo withdrew his wallet. “Two brownies for me too.”
He paid and walked to the end of the counter to wait for their orders. Rod stood to his left, drumming his fingers on the counter in time with the beat of the music streaming from the speakers. “Got any plans for tonight?”
“We’re going out to dinner. There’s a new Italian restaurant near Canalside that’s owned by a couple who used to live in South Philly, so I’ll get a taste of home.”
“That’s awesome. Arielle and I are doing that coffee and chocolate tasting at Jolt’s second location.” He shifted closer to let people pass. “Ben’s really excited about it. I hope it’s a success.”
Leo nodded and glanced back at Ben. A small line had formed at the register. He and a barista were busy taking orders while three others filled them. The coffee shop was doing well. “Vince mentioned it to me last week and said that Joseph was hosting the event. I told him we’d come by after we finish at the restaurant.”
“Cool.” Rod picked up his order from the counter. “Then I’ll see you guys later.”
“Try not to drink both coffees before you get home,” Leo joked. From the coffee cup painted on his goalie mask to the ever-present cup of coffee in his hands, Rod’s love of caffeinated brew was well-known.
“Funny guy.” But Rod was grinning and gave him a hug before heading to the register at the opposite end to say goodbye to Ben. A few seconds later, he was out the door, letting in a burst of frigid air.
Leo shifted farther down the counter. At the end, a flier for the wine and chocolate tasting was propped against a metal sculpture of several stacked coffee cups. A bulletin board on the wall beyond the station with cream and sugar advertised several local community events. One for a pet adoption at the animal shelter caught his gaze.
He and Kelsey had fostered two shelter dogs in the past year. Their relationship with the animal shelter had started after the team had partnered with it for a fan event the previous season. Sidelined with an injury, Leo’s spirits were lifted by the dogs placed temporarily in their care. Especially one dog, Zamboni, who’d been abandoned by its mother. The black Yorkshire Terrier had been a bundle of energy and one of the happiest dogs Leo had ever met. Saying goodbye had been really hard.
His phone buzzed with an alert. He pulled it from his pocket. The phone’s lock screen wallpaper was a photo of Icing and Zamboni snuggling on the couch. Smiling, he swiped up and saw the text from his wife.
Kelsey: On my way. Can you get me a latte?
Already done. He mentally patted himself on the back as the barista set down his order, complete with heart-shaped mugs. Spying a table by the front window, he maneuvered through the maze of tables. It was the perfect spot. Warm from the sunlight gleaming through the window, and Kelsey would see him as soon as she walked through the door.
He sipped his coffee and thumbed through his photos of Kelsey, his teammates, road trips, vacations, and so many of Icing. The white Yorkshire terrier had been Kelsey’s long before they’d gotten together, but the dog had loved him right from the start. Mixed in were photos of the foster dogs. Leo lingered on the photos of Zamboni.
Maybe it was time to think about adding another dog to their family, permanently.
A shadow fell across the table. He glanced up. Cheeks flushed from the cold, Kelsey bent to kiss him. She smelled of coconut and something that reminded him of the beach. He lingered in the meeting of lips for a moment, framing her face with his hands. As always, just seeing her made his day better.
Easing back, he smiled. “Hi.”
She unzipped her coat and then draped it over the back of the chair. “Those brownies are so cute! Sorry I’m late. I got a call from the animal shelter when I was on my way out the door.”
“Do they need us to foster another dog?”
“Not exactly.” She slid onto the vacant chair and wrapped her hands around her mug. “The person who adopted Zamboni can’t keep him. Their mother moved in because she can’t live on her own anymore, and she’s severely allergic.”
“Wow.” He set his cup down. “That’s a shame. I know how happy they were to have Zamboni. Maybe they’ll be able to visit whoever gets Zamboni next.”
Biting her lip, she shifted in her seat. “About that…”
“Yeah?” His heartbeat ticked faster. He knew her far too well. That expression always accompanied big news or something important.
She pushed her coffee and the plate of brownies to the side and leaned across the table. Blue eyes earnest, brows raised, she rested her hand on top of Leo’s and her fingers gently curled around his palm. “What if we adopt him? We already know he and Icing are a good fit. We both love him. What do you think?”
Leo gaped at her. Surprise shot through him like one of Cupid’s arrows fast-tracking straight for his heart. Warmth expanded in his chest as though his heart was readying to welcome back the dog. “I think we need to get to the shelter and take the newest member of our family home.”
Kelsey’s smile bloomed until happiness radiated out of her like sunshine. She launched herself into his arms. He turned his head and quickly found her lips. No matter how many times they’d kissed over the course of their relationship, it always sent a thrill through him. He held her close and gave thanks for the woman who made his life complete.
She leaned back and brushed her hand through his hair. “I’m so happy.”
“Me too.” He clasped her waist as she eased herself off of his lap. “When can we pick him up?”
“He’s at the shelter now. I’ll give them a call and tell them we’re heading over.”
While Kelsey made the call, Leo got a box for their uneaten brownies and to-go cups for their coffees which the barista kindly topped off. He returned to their table as Kelsey slipped her phone into her purse. She grinned and shot to her feet. “We’re all set. They’re waiting for us.”
“Awesome.” He tugged on his coat. “We should cancel our dinner reservation. I don’t want to leave Zamboni alone tonight.”
Kelsey paused with her coat half-zippered. “I agree. But I know how much you were looking forward to dinner, are you sure you’re okay with postponing it?”
“Are you kidding?” Leo threaded their fingers together. “I was sitting here thinking about him when you walked in. I’m so happy right now.”
“Me too. Let’s go get our puppy.”
Four hours later…
Frozen ravioli wasn’t the same as a made-from-scratch pasta cooked by a professional chef, but Leo wouldn’t have changed a thing about his Valentine’s dinner with Kelsey.
Not when they’d had two dogs who were ecstatic to be reunited rolling around on the kitchen floor while he and Kelsey laughed at their antics and cooked the simple meal. By the time they’d gotten home from the shelter and a quick stop at the pet store for some extra food, new toys, and a new dog bed, his rumbling stomach would’ve been satisfied with anything, and the ravioli wasn’t bad. He didn’t even overcook the pasta this time, or burn the sauce, but that was thanks to Kelsey’s watchful eye.
Over plates of ravioli and glasses of wine, they took videos of Zamboni and Icing and sent it to friends and family.
Responses rolled in one after another, filled with congratulations and wishes to meet the dog soon.
After the dishes were done, Leo carried the wine glasses into the living room. The jangle of tags and clicking of nails on the floor—double the usual amount—made him grin.
Kelsey sank into the cushion beside him on the couch and rested her head on his shoulder. Icing jumped up and circled a cushion twice before settling into Kelsey’s lap. Zamboni followed, taking three tries before he cleared the distance from the rug to Leo’s knees and ambled into Leo’s lap.
The puppy licked his hand and then snuggled against Leo’s chest, and Leo’s heart melted as he stared at the furry creature. “Welcome home, little guy.”
“This is pretty great, isn’t it?” Kelsey’s soft words were filled with happiness.
He turned toward her. “This time last year, we were at Ryan’s wedding. I was dealing with that knee injury. And you were exhausted from filming that special for the women’s national team and working your two jobs. I never would’ve dreamed that one week later, we’d meet Zamboni for the first time. Or that we’d be reunited with him now.”
She laid her hand on his chest. “I know. A lot can happen in a year. This is the best Valentine’s Day ever, right?”
“I feel like every day is Valentine’s Day with you.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and drew her close.
“But even so, happy Valentine’s Day. I love you so much, Kelsey.”
Her lips met his, teasingly soft and slow and holding the promise of more. “I love you too, Leo. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Leo brought his other arm around her, but the movement disturbed the dogs. Both shifted, and Icing jumped to the floor. Zamboni maneuvered his body half onto Leo and half onto Kelsey. Then Icing returned and claimed the rest of the space on Leo’s lap and laid a paw over one of Zamboni’s.
Kelsey leaned into Leo’s touch as he traced his fingers down the side of her face. “It’s so cute, like they’re holding hands.”
“They’re happy to be back together. That’s how I feel every time I see you.”
The way that her smile lightened her face took his breath away. She stroked her hand over his stubble and into his hair. “You’re incredibly sweet.”
He didn’t know about that, but he was sure of one thing. “I’m very much in love."
He sought her mouth once more. The kiss was fire and passion and need and love. Deep, overwhelming, all-consuming love. The kind people wrote songs and poems and stories about. The kind that could heal and mend and lift and soar and challenge someone to be their best self.
The rest of the evening would be spent with dog cuddles and soft kisses. Then later, Leo would have Kelsey all to himself. He couldn’t wait to hold her close all night long. But as he looked at the dogs, he knew they’d end up in the bed too. He didn’t mind. They were starting a new adventure together and he couldn’t wait to get started.
Want to read the story of how Leo and Kelsey fell in love? Check out Fighting For More, book two in the Buffalo Bedlam series.