Jersey Girl (Sticks & Hearts #1) by Rhonda James

CHAPTER ONE

CASSIE

"Welcome to Ann Arbor," a soft-spoken female voice greets over the train's intercom.

It's two in the afternoon on a hot August day, and I'm dragging my oversized suitcase behind me, struggling to keep it upright due to the heavy contents I'd crammed inside. Standing on my tiptoes, I cup my hand over my eyes and scan the crowd for a recognizable face. After a few seconds, I spot him standing on the far side of the platform, hands shoved deep in his pockets, with a goofy grin plastered on his face. He takes five steps forward, and I abandon my suitcase to run toward him. When I get within three feet, I launch myself in the air, throwing my hands around his neck as he spins me around.

"Scotty!" I shriek loudly in his ear, then pull back to get a good look at him. He's changed a little since we've last seen each other. His hair is longer, and he's sporting a nice tan. "Nice color there, hot shot. Bet it feels good to play outside for a change." I ruffle my hand through his shaggy hair.

My brother is a hockey player. And a damn good one at that. Before finishing high school, he'd been recruited by Great Lakes University and given a full scholarship to be their starting goalie. Ever since he was a kid he's spent the majority of his year either playing hockey, or training for the upcoming season. This is his last year of college, and he's already been drafted to play for a professional team in Detroit after graduation.

"Yeah, Ashley made me drive her to the lake nearly every day this week," he takes a step back to admire me. "Damn, Cass, you've gone and grown up on me. You look great, kid."

I punch him lightly in the arm, hating that he still thinks of me as a child. "I'm not a kid any longer. I'm nineteen, hardly the giggling teenager you left at home."

"You'll always be my baby sister, no matter how old you are. Get used to it." He gives me a playful wink and walks over to collect my suitcase. I follow him to his car, a black Dodge Charger our grandparents recently gave him as an early graduation present. He lifts my suitcase and tosses it in the backseat as if it weighs nothing, then motions with his hand for me to get in.

A low whistle blows through my teeth as I rub my hand over the leather seats. "Nice wheels. Bet this sucker is a chick magnet."

"I wouldn't know about that. Ashley's usually with me whenever I'm driving," he responds with a laugh. "But, yeah," he says, grinning like a little boy, "it is pretty sweet."

Scotty and Ashley began dating at the beginning of their sophomore year. I like her a lot, and she seems to be good for him, because after they started dating he took to calling mom and dad more often. Ashley is very close to her parents, so it was only natural for her to encourage him to work on his relationship with our parents. Not that there were ever any problems between them; he just pulled the 'I'm away at college and free from the shackles of my demanding parents' card and would go months without calling home. Mom used to fret over it, but dad would always assure her he would come around eventually. Usually when he needed money.

We ride in silence as I look out the window, taking in the architectural intricacy of the buildings near campus. I'm arriving a few days early, so the campus hasn't been flooded with students yet. The thought of spending three days at my brother's apartment, hanging out and seeing the way he's been living the past few years, makes me giddy. I've missed him.

"Thanks for letting me crash here," I call out to him, dropping my suitcase near the door as I make my way deep into the house he shares with three of his teammates. "Where should I put my stuff?" I poke around and see the telltale signs of four guys living together. Beer can towers. Towels left on the bathroom floor. Posters of half-naked women hanging on the wall. The one thing that surprises me is that the fridge is stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Cage is gone for a few days. You can crash in his room until the dorms open up." He comes around and leans over my shoulder to peer into the fridge. "You hungry? I could make something. Or I could order something from one of these places." He turns and opens a drawer crammed full of takeout menus.

"Geez, you guys must order out a lot." I pull out a few and ponder my choices. Thai food. Pizza. Gyros from a place just a block down the road. I only know this, because someone has taken the time to write it on the menu. The Chinese food menu is tempting, but I steal a glance back over at the fridge and make a healthier choice. "I think I'll just have some of this fruit salad."

"It's nice to see someone eating it. Coach makes us meet with a nutritionist once a month, and she gave us a list. We're notorious for buying it and then letting a crap ton of it go to waste," he explains as I grab a fork and dig in.