Epilogue Release – Off Sides


 15 Months Later


I wake up and glance at the alarm clock.

5:52 a.m.

It’s going to go off in eight minutes and I groan inwardly. Freakin’ early mornings. Reaching over, I flip the switch to turn it off. Then I roll over to the soft bundle sleeping next to me. My Danny.

She’s laying on her right side with her back to me. Her left arm is tucked to her chest, her fist resting under her chin. She’s snoring softly—a fact I learned she did quite frequently after we moved in together, but I think it’s adorable. I slide over and press the front of my body to her back then wrap my arm around her to pull her even closer. She lets out a little sigh then resumes snoring. I smile to myself and bury my nose in her neck. She smells like sunshine to me. Always sunshine.

I place a kiss on her shoulder —so gentle —I’ll be the only one to ever know it was there.

Reluctantly, I slide out of bed. There’s nothing more I would rather do than roll Danny under me and bury myself in her but she was up late last night studying and she needs the sleep.

As I pad into the bathroom, I smile thinking about her. She re-enrolled in Julliard and will graduate this coming spring. She has been studying hard and playing her violin even harder. Her delicate finger tips are now hard with callouses, but they still make me shiver when she drags them across my skin. I am so proud of her and of course, we are both incredibly lucky that I signed to play hockey with the New York Rangers. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t join a New York team so that I could be near Danny. For me, it was out of the question that Danny would go anywhere but Julliard. I would accept nothing less.

Turning on the shower, I strip out of my boxers. I go ahead and shave while the shower is heating up, grinning at the lucky fool staring back at me in the mirror. Danny and I had many discussions, and some heated fights, about her music career. She insisted she could go to school anywhere and thus could be with me wherever I ended up playing hockey. That didn’t set well with me. Danny is so talented…she deserves to be at Julliard. By some miracle, the New York Rangers wanted me and Julliard gladly accepted Danny back.

So here we are, living in Manhattan, in a small two-bedroom apartment that conveniently sits almost smack dab in the middle of Julliard and Madison Square Garden. And my life is almost perfect.



I finished a short run this morning just to get my muscles loose. I have a team meeting in a few hours to prepare for tonight’s game. The fantastic hockey I’ve been playing has earned me a spot on the Rangers’ second line and it’s a dream come true for me. Almost as good as having Danny in my life.

Bundled up in a fuzzy yellow robe, Danny softly walks into the living room while I’m watching ESPN Sports Center. I set my coffee down and open my arms. She has that sleepy look in her eyes and she crawls onto my lap to snuggle in.

“Did you get some good sleep?” I ask.

“Mmmm. Hmmmm,” she purrs as she nods her head up and down against my chest. I reach my hand up and smooth some of the tangles in her hair.

“I’m glad. You’ve been burning the midnight oil quite a bit, baby.”

As if to just prove my point, she stretches her arms out and gives a loud yawn. Then she tucks back in to my body. I turn my attention back to Sports Center, trying to get up to speed on all the highlights. It seems to be the only time I can get to find out what is going on in the sports world.

Danny tilts her head up and places a soft kiss on the edge of my jaw. “Did you hear back from your parents yet?”

I clench my teeth and just shake my head at her. I invited my parents to the game tonight as my father is giving a speech in New York tomorrow. I didn’t really expect them to accept the invite, because hey, they’ve declined all of the other invitations Danny and I have extended to them. My mother is still staunchly against my relationship with Danny and my father does whatever my mother tells him to do. I would never have invited them at all, but Danny’s big heart keeps pushing me to do it. She has faith that, with time, my mother will come around. I wish I could be more like Danny. Her unwavering belief in the human spirit is boundless.

She doesn’t say anything more nor does she try to push the subject. I hold her gently while watching TV and before long, I’ve forgotten all about my parents.

Just as the Sports Center episode is finishing, there is a knock at our door. I look down at my watch.

Right on time.

“Do you mind getting the door, honey?” I ask her as I stand up from the couch, dislodging her from my lap. “I’ll start making some breakfast.”

I smile as Danny grumbles at me but she gets up and walks to the door. I stand just outside the kitchen, my body leaning up against the wall and I watch her. She unlocks the deadbolt and swings the door open. I watch as stunned disbelief slides over her face. Standing on the other side of the threshold is her best friend, Paula. I flew her in from Boston to spend the weekend as a surprise for Danny.

Danny finally comes to her senses and lets out a piercing shriek. Paula answers her with an equally loud squawk of her own. I wince. These two women both put nails on a chalkboard to shame.

Now they are hugging each other and rocking back and forth with joy. It’s been almost six months since we moved here and I know Danny misses Paula a lot.

Before I realize it, Danny is releasing Paula and hurtling across the room to me. She jumps in my arms, locking those gorgeous legs around my waist and hugs me tight. Lust shoots through me having her pressed up against my groin and I try to think of something gross to prevent me from getting a hard-on while Paula stands there and watches us. Slugs, vomit, snot. Yup. That works.

“You are such a sneak, Ryan Burnham,” Danny accuses me. “How did you pull this off without me knowing it?”

I chuckle and kiss her lightly, squeezing her ass because…well, I can and she’s all mine. “I hate to tell you, babe, you’re not that observant. It was easy enough arranging this.”

I let Danny slide to the floor and then Paula gives me a big hug. She doesn’t scare me as much as she used to. We’ve sort of bonded over our mutual love of and need to protect Danny. I turn and leave them to their reunion and head to the kitchen to make us all breakfast.





I love Madison Square Garden. There’s an actual vibrating buzz of excitement in the air as over 17,000 fans wait for the game to start. Paula is sitting next to me, happily chewing on a hot dog. I still can’t believe Ryan flew her here for the weekend. Just when I didn’t think it was possible to love him anymore, he goes and does this crap. He’s impossible and he’s mine.

Normally, when I come to Ryan’s home games, I sit further up in the stands, but I guess Ryan wanted to make it special with Paula being here. Tonight, our seats are on the ice, just to the side of the Rangers’ bench. Now I can get a close up view of my honey at work.

We’re still waiting on Ryan’s sister, Emily. She usually goes with me to every home game. She’s in her first year at Columbia and totally loves New York. I don’t see her ever leaving it. And it’s amazing how much our relationship has grown. Those girlfriend/sister lunch dates I had once fantasized about have come true. I mean, Emily still has her issues, and she’s actually trying to break away a bit from her mother’s domineering ways. Overall, she’s actually a very sweet girl but sometimes I can see a little of Celia Burnham peeking through. The fact that she and Ryan have grown closer over the past few months makes my heart sing.

I look at Paula. God, I miss her so much.

“So how have you been doing?” I ask her.

“Just peachy. Work at the record store is…well, boring as shit but what’s a girl to do. How about you?”

I sigh. My life is freakin’ fantastic and I keep waiting to wake up from this dream. “There are no words, Paula. I’m studying music again and I’m with the man of my dreams. I don’t think the English language has enough adjectives to describe my feelings.”

“You are such a dork,” she replies.



“Bilbo Baggins.”

I think I have her with this one but she remains stone-faced. Then she gets me when she leans over to me and starts singing…really, really loud.


“Why do you build me up
Buttercup baby just to
let me down
And mess me around
And then worst of all
You never call baby
When you say you will
But I love you still
I need you
More than anyone darlin’
You know that I have from the start.”


I bust out laughing and notice a smattering of applause from the people around us. Paula just smirks at me and I lean over and give her a quick hug. Yes, I have missed her terribly.

“Oh, God. Please don’t tell me I have to sing just to sit with you two?”

I look up and see Emily standing there. She’s stunning with her glossy dark hair and those same bourbon eyes that Ryan has. She’s wearing her brother’s jersey —#73 —just like me.

I stand up and give Emily a quick hug and she sits down next to me. She knows Paula but not enough to give her a hug so they both just mutter, “Hey” to each other. And now I’m ready to get on with the show. I want to see my man.


I don’t know if it will ever change but every time I see Ryan step out from the tunnel and skate onto the ice, my body quivers. It must be part nerves but if I’m honest with myself, it mostly has to do with the fact that he’s just so damned hot in his uniform. And I could not be prouder of him. He made it to the NHL and his dreams have all come to fruition. The man is simply amazing and he deserves every bit of it.

Ryan skates by, giving me a little wink and my smile stretches from ear to ear. I’m vaguely aware of Emily and Paula talking but my focus is on Ryan. I get so nervous for him on game days. Today, before he headed over to the arena, he seemed a little off. I’m assuming he was just anxious about the game, which is understandable. They are playing the Pittsburgh Penguins and they are #1 in the Atlantic Division.

I’m surprised when the lights in the arena dim just slightly and the announcer says in that deep baritone voice, “Will Danny Cross, please turn your attention to the Jumbotron at center ice.”

Suddenly, a spotlight is on me and I feel a million prickles run across my skin. My face immediately heats up with embarrassment as if I just got busted sneaking in after curfew. I drag my gaze up to the giant scoreboard and the screen shows the camera is focused on me, Paula and Emily. I take note of the stunned expression on my face and Paula is waving happily at the camera. Emily just has her mouth turned up in a smirk.

What. The. Hell? Did they do this as a prank?

Before I can turn to them to ask, the video of us blacks out and the words “You Are My One and Only” flash onto the screen. My breath catches in my lungs and my head is literally buzzing. That’s what Ryan and I call each other. I have no clue what is going on but I sense it’s something big.

And then Ryan is on the video. He’s in his uniform and the video only shows him from the waist up. I glance out to the ice but with the lights dimmed, I cannot see him. And then Ryan starts talking on the monitor.

“Danny…you are my one and only…just as I am yours. My life with you is almost perfect…but not quite. The only way to make that happen is if you will agree to be my wife.” He takes a pause, then a deep breath, and then he says with the most devilish smile on his face, “And I figure if I asked you in front of all of these people, you would never embarrass me by saying no. So will you?”

The screen blanks out for a second and then the video comes back up of me sitting there in my seat, looking bewildered. Paula and Emily are looking at me expectantly. The arena is eerily quiet.

Then I hear from just behind me. “So, will you?”

I swing around and Ryan is standing there in the aisle —just a foot behind my seat —in all his full hockey regalia. His smile is gone and he is looking like he might be sick any moment if I don’t say something. He reaches out and I see he has a black velvet box in his hand. He opens it up and inside is the most exquisite diamond ring I have ever seen. The sparkles flying off of it are in danger of causing me to have a seizure. I stand up and step out into the aisle, staring into those copper eyes. I see promise, hope and love shining back at me. I see my future and my salvation.

Everything seems to be in slow motion and I hear a few people scream out, “Say yes!”

I walk up to the step where Ryan stands and then walk past him to the step above. He turns his body, following my movement and I’m sure he thinks I may be bolting. But I’m not. I just want to put myself within better reaching distance to his enormous height.

And then I launch myself at him, wrapping my arms around his neck and burying my face just below his jaw. “Yes, Ryan. I will marry you.”

His arms tighten around me and I pull my head back. There is so much emotion vibrating between us, I half expect him to give me a scorching X-rated kiss. But I’m sure he remembers the cameras are on us and he instead feathers the softest kiss on my lips, followed by one on my forehead.

The arena erupts into cheers and Ryan releases his hold on me. He takes the ring and puts it on my finger.

“I love you so much,” he says softly, so only I can hear.

I stare at the ring for only a second but then look back into his beautiful eyes. “I love you, too. Now get back out on that ice and kick some Penguin ass.”

He throws a dazzling smile at me, slaps me on the butt and hustles off. I watch him until he disappears from sight and I wish that my parents could have been here to see this.

I glance around me and everyone is cheering and smiling at me. Paula and Emily walk up and wrap me in fierce hugs, grabbing my hand to look at the ring. Complete strangers reach out to clap me on the back. I have all of this emotion and vibrancy swirling around me. My heartbeat is working overtime and I’m actually a little dizzy from the onslaught of sensation.

I swing my gaze back to the ice and I see Ryan is down there skating again.

Just looking at him, I immediately feel myself calm. Everything comes back into focus. Unbelievable warmth and peace suffuses through me.

All because of my Ryan…my one and only.

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Sawyer Bennett

Sawyer Bennett

New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestselling author Sawyer Bennett uses real life experience to create relatable stories that appeal to a wide array of readers. Continue Reading