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About The Book

“Unputdownable and unforgettable. Peyton Corinne effortlessly weaves together raw, emotional moments with scenes that feel like a warm embrace through dynamic characters that will leave an indelible imprint long after you turn the final page” (Bal Khabra, author of Collide) in TikTok sensation Unsteady. Now featuring a previously unreleased bonus chapter.

Rhys is desperate to feel anything.
Sadie wants to stop feeling so much.

Rhys Koteskiy is back—at least, he’s supposed to be. During last year’s Frozen Four, the Waterfell University hockey captain and NHL legacy took a brutal hit that left him with a concussion and a new discomfort on the ice. Plagued by nightmares and panic attacks every time he attempts to skate, Rhys wonders if he’ll ever play again—or if he’ll ever want to.

Sadie Brown is staying focused this semester—no matter what. Currently drowning in debt, custody hearings for her younger brothers, and skating practices, she’s just trying to make it to the next day. A spitfire figure skater known for her bad attitude and frequent disappearing acts, Sadie has a reputation on campus. And it’s not a pretty one.

When she accidentally witnesses one of the golden boy hockey captain’s panic attacks and attempts to help him, a strange sort of understanding strikes up between them. No questions asked. Just comfort. But Rhys finds himself drawn to Sadie. Where he feels empty, a shell of the man and player he was before, Sadie is so full of everything, it bursts from her; every emotion she feels seems like it’s blasted at max volume. Rhys is desperate to feel anything. Sadie wants to stop feeling so much. But healing doesn’t mix with secrets, and they’re both skating on thin ice.


Prologue: Three Months Ago: Rhys PROLOGUE Three Months Ago Rhys
I can’t breathe.

The icy cold seeps in through my jersey. I can feel it on my stomach—fuck, I’m on my stomach on the fucking ice. Did I pass out?

“Son, you’re doing fine—can you lift your head for me?”

Everything is black. I shut my eyes and open them again. Nothing. I keep blinking; at least, I think I am… Fuck, how long was I out?

“Koteskiy, I need you to breathe,” another voice says, before there’s a hand gripping my arm. “Don’t move him, Reiner, not yet.”

A scrape of a blade against the ice, then my best friend Bennett’s voice: “What’s wrong? What happened?”

I want to call for him. I try desperately to push his name through my mouth, but it feels like my lips have been fused together.

“Back up, everyone. Back up!”

“I can’t see,” I manage to wrangle out. “I can’t see.” The second one comes out like a choked sob.

“Calm down,” Ben offers, his voice soft, soothing the fear and adrenaline coursing through me. “Take it easy, Rhys—just breathe.”

“Where’s my dad? I can’t see anything.”

My voice is like this foreign thing echoing in a cavern. Am I speaking or is it in my head? Why can’t I see?

Everything starts to muddle together again, and the pain throbs in my head even harder. I want to open my eyes. I want to push my tongue against my teeth to check that they’re all there, and swear I’ll wear a mouth guard next time. I want to go back and pay attention, keep my fucking head up against that hit. I don’t want to be here.

I don’t want to be here.

I don’t want to be here.

The voices around me start to muddle to nothing as I slump into the thick darkness entrapping me.

Chapter One: Present: Rhys CHAPTER ONE Present Rhys
“Just try it today, and if you still feel like shit, I won’t ask you to do it again. Okay?”

Even with the volume on my phone turned so low it should be silent, my father’s voice is a booming echo through the speaker. I wince lightly, using muscle memory to pull the black joggers over my legs in the darkness of my bedroom. After gently shrugging a hoodie over my head, I swipe the phone from where it lies on the dresser.

“I’m fine,” I say. It’s not really an answer, but I know what he’s really asking beneath his command.

We’re cut from the same cloth, my father and I—both calm under pressure, both “dipped like Achilles into a pool of confidence” as my mother so often puts it. I’ve been compared to him all my life—for the way I look, the way I skate, the way I play—and unlike many of the other NHL legacies I’ve played with, I don’t mind it.

My dad has always been my hero.

Which is why I know he’s asked me to work with the First Line Foundation today—a charity my father started after retiring from the NHL—purely as a way to check up on me. Where we used to talk hockey for hours, we barely share surface-level conversations now and I know he knows I’ve started avoiding him altogether.

The foundation funds scholarship programs for kids who want to play hockey but don’t have the means to do so. I’ve worked with the program before, I’ve even enjoyed it before, but now…

It feels daunting, like I know even now that the smiles of children won’t drive away the constant dread filling up the void of my body.

“Rhys,” he calls again, his voice still too loud. I huff a breath, sliding my shoes on and grabbing my bag before heading into the warm June air. “Just… try it today. And then, if you feel like it, take the keys tomorrow morning to run a few drills before the rink opens.”

I nod, tossing the bag into the backseat of my BMW. I’d been cleared to drive for a month or so but have barely left the house in all that time.

“I will,” I finally say, tightening my hands on the steering wheel in the silence that follows. The swishing sound through my father’s crackling speaker tells me he’s driving with the windows down in his ancient truck that my mom refers to as “that thing.”

“And if you’re not ready this year, there’s no reason to push yourself. An extra year might be good, to make a better impression on the scouts before the next draft—”

The next draft… My shoulders hike defensively, but I can’t help the slight appeal of it, waiting until I don’t feel this way about hockey anymore, until I love it again, just like I always have.

This is ridiculous. I’m not a soldier. I play NCAA hockey… I should be over this by now.

I cut him off before this entire conversation sends me spiraling and right back into my room with the blackout curtains shut tight.

“I want to play. I feel ready to play again,” I lie. It’s one I’ve been practicing, so it rolls off my tongue easier than breathing. “I’m good.”

A deep sigh over the line before we exchange quick goodbyes and I finally start the car.

The rink is crowded, especially for a Thursday evening at dinner time. Kids ranging in age from five to thirteen skirt and swerve around the rink with a few volunteers that I recognize from previous functions—some retired players, some parents with relevant experience. I even spot Lukas Bezek—one of the new star players for the Bruins—with the social media team working with a few of the older kids on slap shots.

Just as I step onto the ice, a little blur slams into my legs with a belatedly screamed, “Watch out!”

I catch the small kid before he can bounce off my thighs and fall flat onto the ice.

He giggles as I hold him up by the little pads and jersey he’s wearing and wait until he gets his feet under him again. He looks up at me the entire time. He has a dusting of freckles and a gap-toothed grin that makes him look just like a mini hockey player. He slides a bit again, not quite the best skater out there, but he doesn’t frown or seem agitated in the slightest.

“Sorry,” he offers, a little whistle coming from the hole where he’s missing a front tooth. “I’m still working on my stops.”

The old Rhys would have laughed and said something gentle or funny, like “That’s all right, bud. I am too.” But even the idea of laughing seems impossible, so I offer as much of a grin as my face can manage.

“Good thing we’re gonna work on those stops today,” a chipper voice announces as a tall, pretty girl glides up and stops short next to us, a gaggle of little ones behind her. “And good job, Liam, on finding our special guest coach for today!”

Liam, the boy still clinging to me with a little gloved hand on my leg, laughs again and leans back.

“He’s so tall!”

The group of kids now surrounding us all giggle and smile at me, waiting on something. Sweat slicks the back of my neck at the sight of all their hopeful faces looking up at me, relying on me.

Maybe this was a mistake.

“This is Rhys.” The girl takes over. “He’s a center for the Waterfell Wolves, so he plays hockey in college, just outside Boston! He’s been playing since he was your age. And he’s gonna help you guys with skating today.”

“Will we play today?” a little girl asks with her helmet in her hands, cheeks blushing immediately at the attention of her fellow classmates.

“Probably not today. We’re gonna mainly work on skating, all right?” The girl smiles lightly at the group as they all cheer. “We’ll do a bit of stick handling with our hockey captain here.” She nods to me. “And then finish with some fun games. How does that sound?”

A consensus of excited shouting commences before she dismisses them to some warm-up laps.

“Hope you don’t mind me taking over,” she says, reaching her hand out to shake mine. “I’m Chelsea. One of the leads told me you’d be helping out today with the little ones.”

“Yeah,” I reply. I skate gently beside her, following her lead to the other side of the rink where a stack of cones sits by the boards, and try to pull it together. “Thanks for that. Was a little out of it this morning.”

“I understand.” She chuckles. “We all have some of those nights.”

I should laugh, or nod and agree—as if my lack of emotion is just due to a bad hangover from a rough night out—but I can barely muster a half-grin as we set up for drills.

“Anyway, for the littles, it’s mainly just a skating lesson. The ten-and-up group is with the Bruins for media today.” She nods toward the stumbling crew headed back in our direction. “And the little one who tried to knock you over is Liam—he needs some extra care if you want to focus on him today. Make it easier.”

So I do.

Liam is easy, an eager—albeit clumsy—learner who never loses his smile. He clings to me easily, watching the other kids every now and then with a little determined scowl.

Chelsea closes the session with a quick round-up huddle. Only half of the kids are able to kneel, the rest sprawling on the ice with happy smiles.

I keep waiting for that little reminder of myself at this age, holding my dad’s stick and letting him glide me almost too fast across the ice. Watching his games on the TV, decked out in his jersey and shouting just like my mom. The first time I got a goal on my own, even if it was nearly accidental. I wait… and still, nothing.

“My brother’s real good too,” Liam says a little breathlessly as he holds on to the pocket of my joggers once again. The kid’s a terrible skater, but he’s happy.

“Is he?”

The kid looks over his shoulder at the older group finishing up across the ice.

“Yep. Oliver. I think he’ll be jealous you skated with me today.”

“Jealous?” I quirk a brow at the little guy.

He nods and another giggle escapes. “Oh yeah. You play Wolves hockey, and Oliver wants to play for them bad.”

I glance over, now wondering why exactly Liam hasn’t been called over by the gaggle of parents surrounding the kids gorging on the goodies at the snack table. The older kids scatter, all heading for the gate, except one—a taller boy with hair long enough that it hangs just out of his helmet, who is skating right for us.

Chelsea is nowhere to be seen; in fact, the ice has cleared. Parents and children cover the bleachers and huddle around the table of snacks, their laughter and chatter echoing and bouncing off the walls of the open rink. I wait for someone to step up to the glass and notice the two boys still on the ice, but no one bats an eye.

“Is she not here?” the older boy, Oliver, asks, pulling his helmet off to hang in his hands. His hair is darker, but the gray eyes are identical to his brother’s so it’s easy to spot their connection.

Liam shakes his head, silent for the first time all afternoon.

Oliver makes a frustrated sound. After a quick wary glance up at me, he looks down at Liam with his hands on his hips. “I told you, if she’s not here, you wait for me by the snacks with Miss Chelsea.”

Liam pouts, his hand releasing me so he can skate, or trip, to his brother.

“But it’s a Wolf!” he explains in a semi-hushed voice, letting out a quick little howl. “Like, he plays hockey for Waterfell.”

The kid waits for his brother to react, but Oliver looks embarrassed, almost angry. Liam howls again, then turns his head toward me and says, “Right, Rhys?”

I let out a smile and nod. “Right, Liam.”

“He’s gonna teach me so much hockey stuff, I’m gonna be even better than you.”

Oliver smiles, albeit reluctantly, at his brother’s antics, as Liam skates little circles around him. He probably feels like he’s flying, but he’s tripping along on one foot.

It’s easy to see the camaraderie between the brothers, and it makes me think of being six and chasing Bennett around like a lunatic. He was always bigger, but I was faster. He’s my brother, even if not by blood, and an ache emanates from my chest at the thought of him, of the one hundred missed calls and texts on my phone that I’ve yet to listen to or answer.

I haven’t seen him since the hospital, despite knowing he’s made multiple visits to my house, only to be turned away by my parents over and over.

My phone vibrates in my pocket, and I grab it.

BENNETT REINER: 152 Unread Messages

I know you’re alive dumbass. Answer your…

Not bothering to read more than the preview, I slip the phone back into my pocket and ignore the niggle of guilt that threatens. I refocus my attention on the boys who are staring blankly up at me.

Chelsea suddenly joins us. She’s smiling brightly at the boys, and offers me a little shrug before leaning over to whisper in my ear.

“They’re always the last ones here.” As she speaks, I look over and see that the snack table has cleared out and we are the only four left in the whole rink. “Someone has to stay with them until—”

A door slams and a girl sprints down the ramp toward the gate.

She’s slight, covered in tight black leggings and an oversized blue sweatshirt that she’s practically swimming in, her ponytail loose and fluffed up by the hood hanging around her shoulders. The undone, barely-there look on her face makes me wonder when she last slept.

I watch Liam’s face light up, his little knees bending like he might jump up and down from excitement if he wasn’t afraid to fall. Next to me, Chelsea huffs and rolls her eyes, giving me a look that says this is far from the first time this girl has been late.

“I’m here,” the new arrival shouts, her bag bouncing hard against her back where it’s slung on her shoulders. She sprints onto the ice in slip-on sneakers, sliding aimlessly for a moment before she regains her balance and takes quick steps toward us.

“You’re late,” Chelsea sneers. “Again.” Her hands fall to Oliver’s shoulders in a protective gesture, and red spreads further across the new girl’s already flushed skin.

“I know,” she says, kneeling onto the ice to get at eye level with Liam, who is still excited, with no sign of frustration toward his… mother? She seems too young, especially with Oliver looking to be around eleven.

The girl looks around briefly, and it’s only then that a flash of recognition hits me. I’ve seen her before, but I can’t place where.

She doesn’t bother speaking to Chelsea, only giving a big smile to Liam, who is looking at her like she’s his entire world, before shifting to speak directly to Oliver, whose face is red and slanted down, disappointment emanating from him.

“I’m sorry, bud.” She bites her lip hard, her wide gray eyes pleading. “I tried so hard.”

“I got even faster today,” Liam offers, completely and blissfully ignorant of his brother’s obvious frustration.

She gives him a wink and rubs his head lightly, mussing his hair as she stands back up. “I’ll bet you’ll be even faster than Crosby one day.”

I almost snort, partially because I’m now imagining a Sidney Crosby poster in her childhood bedroom. Despite the fact my lips don’t even begin to rise—no hint of a laugh threatening—I am taken aback by how quickly she got any kind of reaction out of my empty body.

“Crosby’s not the fastest. And you swore you’d be here to see,” Oliver accuses, scowl still in place, cheeks heated.

“Oliver, killer, I’m sorry. I promise I’ll be here—”

“You say that every time, and you only don’t show because of him.” He spits the word like poison and her expression shutters.

It’s clear whoever this him is, he’s a constant issue for them. A boyfriend, maybe? I cross my arms, finding myself somewhat in agreement with Chelsea.

“How about you show me now?” the girl offers in a hopeful tone, attempting to turn the conversation around. “Give me a minute to put on my skates and I’ll even race you—”

“Actually,” Chelsea cuts her off, “we need to be off the ice now. They’ve got to clear it before the beer league game tonight. Come on, Oliver, let’s get you one of the cookies from the snack table. I saved some for you.”

Oliver follows Chelsea as she skates off toward the exit, and I realize only now that the girl is staring at me, eyebrows furrowed.

Self-conscious in a way I would never have been before the accident, I fix my stance, straightening my spine. My arms hang loose at my sides for a moment, but somehow that seems worse. I cross them before feeling more ridiculous and letting them drop again, one hand finding my pocket.

“Who’s the big guy?” she asks Liam, quirking an eyebrow at him before he smiles.

“Oh, yeah, I know—stranger danger—but that’s Rhys.”

“I don’t know who Rhys is, bug.”

“He’s gonna help us get real good at hockey,” Liam says, just as his skate slides out from underneath him and he slips onto the ice, stomach first.

I reach for him immediately, easily picking him up and holding his arms until he gets steady again. Easy enough, especially after repeating this process about twenty times in the last hour.

“You good?” I ask, bending down to his level and sending another quick, albeit restrained smile to the girl looking down at us. I wait a beat for something—a smile, a hum of approval, a “How sweet” or “You have such a way with kids.” All normal responses to my easy charm before. But she gives me nothing but a wide, blank stare.

I hate it, feeling like her cat-like gray eyes can see everything. Like there’s something physically wrong with me that signals the absolute shit show stowed beneath my skin.

“I’m good,” Liam replies, skating ahead on shaking legs. “Rhys is, like, the best hockey player.”

“Ahh.” She nods, eyes still infuriatingly locked on me. “All right, welp, say goodbye to the hockey hotshot, bug. Time to go home.”

“Bye, Rhys! Next week I’ll bring my helmet. It’s got stickers on it,” Liam practically shrieks, picking himself up quickly from another fall before trying another howl with me. I know I should join him, make him feel like I’m his friend, but there’s a pressure on my chest that keeps me from breathing, let alone howling with him.

He falls twice more on his way to the boards and bleacher seats where his brother is unlacing his skates. Oliver carefully watches the girl, like he’s worried about her despite his anger.

She blows a raspberry; her bangs and the multitude of loose tendrils of silky brown hair whip and whirl around her face. I wait a moment, poised to introduce myself when I spot the hang tag on her bag.

“You go to Waterfell?”

Not just Waterfell—that’s a skate embroidered into the end of the logo: a figure skate.

She spins back toward me so fast, her entire balance gets knocked off. I grab her, not shocked that she feels light as air from how small she is, and place her back on her feet before she can blink.

Her name is lost to me, if I ever knew it, but I remember her. I’ve seen her in and out of the complex before, always in a rush of some sort, always barely put together.

But the memory that’s hitting me hardest is seeing her burst into our practice one day when we ran late, shouting her head off at our even-keeled coach before a tall, stern-faced man picked her up by the waist and carted her off.

I stayed after my practice let out, lingering in the tunnels for a moment as she started blasting loud, vibrant music and blazed onto the cut-up ice, keeping the Zamboni from clearing while she skated like she wanted to kill someone.

Pure passion.

She’s beautiful this close, even with her haphazard look—her hair is shiny and dark, skin flushed but pale with a unique little patch of freckles under her right eye.

“Glad I caught you.” I try to smile, my old charm covering me like a thick coat, a shield. She blinks once, twice, then sharpens her brow in deep frustration and shoves away from me.

“I’m sure you catch all kinds of things.”

Smiling still, in spite of the cold response and the emptiness hollowing my gut, I offer, “I play hockey for Waterfell.”

“All right, kiddos,” she calls, ignoring my words and presence completely as she marches off the ice with an upturned nose. Something inside me twists, whether at her dismissal of the thing that once made me so valuable, or the lack of any recognition. “Let’s go.”

The two boys grab their gear bags and strut behind her, Liam just as animated as before and Oliver just as dejected. Looking at his beaten-down expression feels like a punch in the chest, and I rush off the ice to follow them.

“Hey,” I call, waiting as all three turn around. “Can I talk to you for a minute—uh, sorry, you didn’t say your name.”

Liam giggles and points up at the slip of a girl guarding him.

“That’s Sadie.”

“Thanks, nugget.” She rolls her eyes, hip-checking him in the shoulder as she looks up at me. “What for?”

“It’s about… the boys. Just—” I cut myself off as she struts down to me. The closer she gets, the faster my heart races at the idea of arguing with her.

“What?” Her tone is just as aggressive as her stance, arms crossed and glaring up at me, as if she is the 6'3" center with three extra inches of skates.

“I know I’m new to the scholarship program, but Liam and Oliver are great—even as young as they are.”

“I know.”

I manage to keep the smile plastered to my face, mainly because something warm is thrumming in my gut. “And, well, I think parental support is important to kids, especially about their interests—”

“Get to the point, hotshot.”

All right, fine. No more charm. I harden my stare and cross my arms. “You should make an effort to be here. Not a forgotten promise.”

Her eyes turn molten before me, fire beneath the slate gray, and for a moment I think she might tackle me, attempt to check me into the boards.

Maybe it’ll help, force me to feel something besides the empty chasm of nothingness yawning inside. Maybe, if she turns out to be stronger than she looks, she’ll knock me flat on my ass.

Honestly, I hope she does.

“Noted. Anything else you’d like to spout off from that high horse of yours?” Sadie doesn’t wait even a second before continuing. “Great!” Her hands clap sharply together. “Glad we had that talk.”

“Wait.” I try again, my frustration mounting as I reach to grab her wrist and stop her retreat.

She flares, igniting at the contact and pulling herself from my touch like I’ve tried to set her on fire. I release her immediately, only to see her little hand now wrapped, as much as it can be, around my wrist. She’s bending it like a bully on the playground in some attempted self-defense move that sends a zing up my spine.

“Don’t ever grab me like that again.” She bends my wrist a little more, and I want to ask her to keep it there in her warm grip because this is the first anything, other than pain, I’ve felt in months.

But I can’t, because by the time I work a swallow down my throat and unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth, all three of them are gone.

About The Author

Photograph by Peyton Corinne

Peyton Corinne is a writer of romances with imperfect characters, angst, and lots of heart. She grew up on swoony vampire books and endless fan fiction and has wanted to be an author since she was very young. When she’s not writing, she’s probably at home making another cup of coffee, rewatching Twilight, or frantically reading through her own never-ending TBR. Visit and follow @PeytonCorinneAuthor on Instagram and @PeytonCorinne on TikTok for more.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (March 26, 2024)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668066980

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Raves and Reviews

“Unputdownable and unforgettable. Peyton Corinne effortlessly weaves together raw, emotional moments with scenes that feel like a warm embrace through dynamic characters that will leave an indelible imprint long after you turn the final page.”

– Bal Khabra, author of Collide

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