The party was in full swing by the time we made it to Gage’s house. Usually he kept his parties to a few select friends, but seeing as we were coming off a win and had a bye this weekend, the entire team—including wives and kids—were in Gage’s backyard.
“Man, this place is huge.” Connor shuffled the bags of ice in his arms as I shifted the ones I carried to open the sliding glass door to the deck. “How the hell do you ever afford a place like this?”
“Language,” his five-year-old niece, Hannah, reminded him as she followed us in.
“Sorry, Banana,” he said down to her
“He’s a starter on an NHL team,” I answered as we headed toward the stairs.
“So are we.”
“Yeah, well, he’s got way more seniority.” And zeroes in his contract. Connor and I had both been on the Sharks for two years and were just now finishing up our rookie contracts this season.
Since Connor was the leading scorer on the team, and my stats were more than solid as our starting goalie, I had a feeling we’d have no issues being renewed next season.
Which meant if I played my cards right, I’d be able to get my parents out of the mountain of debt they were under with the farm and maybe have enough to pay the rest of my sister’s college tuition.
“You’re a lifesaver!” Bailey, Gage’s wife, called out as we made our way down the stairs, meeting us halfway. “I can’t believe we forgot the ice.”
“It is a little ironic,” Connor called out from behind me.
“Happy to help,” I told her. “Where would you like them?”
“Oh, I can take them,” she held out her arms.
“Absolutely not. My mother would never forgive me.” I smiled at her, but shook my head.
She sighed. “Well, in that case, thank you. This way!” She grinned and led us to the outdoor kitchen directly across from a gigantic castle covered in climbing children.
“That’s some playhouse,” I told her as I cracked the lid on the first cooler.
“It’s barely big enough for my daughter’s personality,” Gage rumbled above me. “Here, let me help. I’m glad you three could make it.”
Hannah made her way toward the castle, and we dumped the ice into the coolers and I stood, bringing me just a shade taller than Gage. “Thanks for having us. It’s like being let into the cool kids’ club.”
Gage laughed, slapping me on the back. “You save our ass every week, Gentry. You are the cool kids’ club. You’re welcome any time.” He nodded at Connor. “You, too, Bridgerton. I know it’s a little kid-heavy out here,” he winced as an ear-piercing shriek rent the air.
We all turned to see a boy perched at the edge of the castle, a little girl holding him at sword-point. He was easily almost double her size.
“Jesus,” Gage mumbled. “Scarlett! You let him down!”
“He called me a girl!” she shouted in indignation.
“Honey, you are a girl,” Gage said, softening his tone.
“He didn’t say it like it was a good thing,” she argued.
“What the hell, McPherson?” Davis asked, coming over and folding his arms as he stared up at where Gage’s daughter had his son inching back. The guy was my back-up, but I wasn’t sure for how long if he kept playing like shit.
“Lettie!” Gage snapped.
Bailey walked over, a tiny, mini-Gage toddling beside her. “Scarlett McPherson, I think you made your point.”
The little girl openly glared at Davis’s boy, and then sighed melodramatically, allowing him to pass.
“She’s going to be the death of me,” Gage said, shaking his head.
“She’s amazing,” I said honestly.
“We’re kind of a magnet for strong women around here.” Gage motioned to where his wife negotiated with his daughter.
When I thought about the other Shark’s wives, I had to agree.
“There you two are! It’s about time,” Lukas called from behind the kitchen. His Scandinavian accent was thick, but after a few months of playing with him I didn’t have to ask him to repeat what he said anymore. A trade from the Rangers, it was his first year on the Sharks, and I was more than grateful to have him on defense. He was pretty fucking formidable.
“We made the ice run,” Connor explained.
“Which I appreciate,” Gage added. “The other guys are in the pool room if you’re looking for them. Go have a good time, Connor. We’ll keep an eye on Hannah out here.”
“You sure? She’s shy. Not really good with other kids.”
“Scarlett will get her talking in no time. Don’t you worry. Now if you’ll excuse me, looks like I might need to leave you and hide all the sharp objects from my daughter.”
“She’s a little aggressive,” Davis agreed.
“Yeah, well, your son screams like a pussy,” Gage said with a shrug, walking off in dismissal.
Connor snorted, and I quickly elbowed him as Davis glared in our direction.
“Enough commentary from the Charlie’s Angels,” he snapped, grabbing a beer out of the cooler and heading toward his son.
“Charlie’s Angels?” Lukas asked.
Connor pointed to his hair. “Black,” then mine, “Red,” then Lukas, “Blonde.”
“Whatever. Stanton brought girls.” As if that was enough of an explanation, Lukas walked off. Connor and I exchanged a WTF look but followed. It seemed like Lukas was trying to sleep his way through Seattle—and succeeding—not like it was any of my business.
Seventies rock blared from the pool room as we came through the arched doorway. There were a few second-stringers in here, as well as Crosby Stanton, who had his arms around two different girls.
Go-fucking-figure. The guy nailed anything in a skirt with two legs and a heartbeat. At least Lukas had standards.
He gave us the nod and went back to flirting with the women.
“Damn,” Connor said, his eyes sweeping over the selection of women either playing pool or flirting with players. “See anything you like?”
I blatantly ignored the eyes of a brunette in the corner made at me and rubbed my hand over my light beard. “Nothing worth fucking up my concentration over.”
“Are you seriously telling me you’re going to be celibate all season?” Connor asked. “Because fuuuuck that.”
“Hell no. But I’m sure as hell not looking to score a puck bunny.” Not that I was against relationships or the women who relentlessly chased Sharks. To each their own. But I wasn’t down with sharing, and from the looks of the girls Stanton had invited...well, a lot of them had already been shared.
“Sex is good for the soul. It would probably make you a little less of an asshole, too,” Connor said, already scanning the selection. He could talk about the benefits of casual sex and even indulge when the mood struck, but I knew he didn’t bring random women around his niece, and since he never knew when his sister was going to disappear on him for days at a time—like right now, Hannah was his priority.
“Well, suit yourself. I’m going to get egged,” Lukas declared with a firm nod.
Connor and I both looked his way slowly. “I’m sorry. Egged?” Connor asked.
“Yes?” Lukas raised his eyebrows like we were the ones speaking breakfast. “I’m going to find a woman and have sex.”
“Laid,” I corrected Lukas. “You want to get laid. Not egged.”
The guy shrugged. “I knew it was something to do with chickens. Don’t blame me for your confusing American phrases.”
“Yeah, you two have a good time.” I threw them a salute and headed toward the giant archway that connected the billiards room to the rest of the house.
I found the bathroom, used it, and barely cleared the door to leave when I nearly mowed over a girl as she walked down the hall.
“Shit!” We both stumbled, tripping over our tangled feet. Opting not to crush her, I gripped her waist and pivoted my weight so my back hit the opposite wall. Her tiny frame slammed into mine right about the moment I realized she wasn’t a girl—she was a perfectly curved woman. “Are you okay?” I asked.
Eyes the color of the glacier-fed lake I loved back home met mine, widening slightly.
Fuck me, she was beautiful. Her hair was long, mid-way down her back, and the ends were dyed soft, baby pink. Her heart-shaped face, pert nose, and plump, pink lips were all exquisite, but those eyes were heart-stopping.
Or so I had to guess since I was pretty sure mine had ceased beating.
“Yeah. Quick reflexes,” she complimented me with a soft, shy smile.
“Hockey player,” I explained.
A single eyebrow arched over her eye. “Aren’t you all?”
It wasn’t what she said that got to me; it was the tone—like she was anything but impressed.
Well, shit, now I was intrigued.
“I’m Eric Gentry.”
She stepped out of my hands, and they immediately felt empty. “As in the goalie, Eric Gentry?”
For the first time in my NHL career, I was tempted to use my position to get a girl. Instead, I shoved my hands in the pockets of my jeans. “That would be me.”
She looked me up and down, which was a feat considering she didn’t even come up to my collarbone. She was a perfect, handful of a package. Lifting her against a w—
“It’s nice to meet you, Gentry. I’m actually the team’s new statistician.”
“I didn’t realize we’d hired an analyst. I know Coach has been looking for a good one for a while now.” I would have backed away if I hadn’t already been against the damn wall.
Leave it to me to be attracted to someone I was going to have to work with.
So what? Workplace relationships happen all the time.
I told my inner-Dr. Phil to slow his fucking role. I wasn’t looking for a relationship, not with the kind of season we were having. Maybe after playoffs, though.
“Well, I graduated from MIT last year, so hopefully I qualify as a good one.” She smiled, and my stomach hit the floor.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
“Sounds like it.”
Maybe Connor was right and I did need to get laid. But even when I did have a one-night stand or even the few girlfriends I’d had since high school, I’d never been hit with this instant, magnetic, attraction that was currently turning my insides out.
“You’re huge,” she said, peering up at me. “I mean, I knew you were big. I’ve read your stats, but standing next to you...you’re like...Hulk huge. Though I’ve always been more of an Iron Man fan.”
“Iron-who?” I questioned.
“Um. How do you not know the MCU?” Her forehead puckered.
“Well, I know all about the SAT,” I countered, unable to stop from grinning.
“I would assume, as an NHL goalie, you’d be an expert about the percentage of shots on goal, missed and blocked shots,” she leaned forward, her eyes narrowing. “But seriously? Thor? Captain America? Any of that sound familiar?”
“I can introduce you to Lukas Vestergaard,” I offered. “He’s from Sweden, but I don’t think he really believes Norse mythology.”
“My God, you’re like...a unicorn.”
“Says the woman with the pink hair.”
She was mid-laugh when Lukas popped his head through the archway.
“Gentry. Coach wants you.”
“I think that’s your cue.” She stepped back another couple of feet, so we stood at opposite sides of the hallway.
We locked gazes for a moment, and if I were a romantic, I would have said that tension crackled between us. But I wasn’t. Sexual chemistry? Hell yeah, we had that shit in spades.
“Nice to meet you, Statistician.”
A slow smile spread across her face, which was all I needed to know—she wasn’t going to tell me her name.
She was going to make me work for it, and I had a feeling that was going to be the case in every department when it came to this woman.
“Guess I’ll see you around,” I said over my shoulder as I walked away. Hell, that was the one reason I could walk away. Otherwise, I would have been on my knees for her number so I could see her again. If she worked for the team, I’d be seeing her plenty.
“Timing, asshole,” I grumbled at Lukas.
He looked back at the blonde. “Sorry about that. Want me to get her number? Cockpit-man you?”
I rolled my eyes. “Wingman, Lukas. Not cockpit-man, and no.” I didn’t want anyone around her. Yep, I pretty much needed a warning label that said, does not share well with others.
I found Coach outside, nursing a beer as he leaned against the deck’s support pillar.
“Ah, Gentry. I wanted to have a word.”
“Absolutely,” I answered, grateful I hadn’t been drinking. If he wanted to talk to me, sober was the only way to do it. My career meant way too much to me to fuck it up by not remembering what he said or making an ass out of myself.
“Two things: One, we need to have a serious discussion about Davis.”
Fuck. I wasn’t going to talk shit about one of my teammates. It didn’t matter if he was about as effective as a sieve.
Coach narrowed his eyes and then smiled. “Okay, you’re not going to take that opening. That’s one of the things I like about you, Gentry. You’re a straight-shooter. You don’t party, don’t drink much from what I can tell, and you’re not a womanizer.”
“No, sir. I’m here to play hockey.”
He clapped me on the shoulder. “Excellent. Well, I’ve hired someone to help me make decisions from a purely analytical standpoint.”
I waited for him to tell me more, but he peered over my shoulder, distracted. “Damn, that SOB is quick. She’s only been home a week.”
“Coach?” I asked, turning to see what had him ruffled.
“See that guy talking to Jackson?” he asked.
“I see the guy trying to talk to Jackson,” I answered. Rory didn’t look too interested.
The guy was average height and build, talking with animated hands.
“That’s Mason, my daughter’s ex from high school. Boy plays on the farm team—mostly because I felt obligated to pull some strings. Should have known the moment she came back to town, he’d come sniffing around, already looking for an in.” Coach shook his head. “He’s actually the second thing I need your help with.”
“Okay,” I agreed without even knowing what it was.
“You’re always at the rink. No, that’s not a bad thing. You’re dedicated, which I absolutely respect. But with my daughter home...well, if you see him trying to hang around her, do me a favor and step in? Hell, any of the players. That’s one thing I won’t stand for, and you’re the most honest of the bunch. Keep the players away from my daughters if you see anything.”
Wait, now he wanted me to stop the pucks and the players? What the—
“Ah, there she is, my Ivy-girl. Now they’re both here. Time for some introductions. If you’ll excuse me, Gentry?”
He headed off into the party crowd, calling for a meeting, and I was still blinking when Lukas and Connor came to stand beside me.
“What was that about?” Connor asked as we stared up at where Coach stood on the deck, waiting for us to assemble below him.
“Coach wants me to keep the players away from his daughters.”
“Ha!” Lukas laughed. “You’re a blocker, yes?”
“Yes, that’s what they call me. It’s a nickname from the pads,” I explained to him. One day he’d get the American slang right, and I wouldn’t have to translate.
“No,” he shook his head. “You’re supposed to shield the girls. You’re a cockblocker.”
Okay, that was one American phrase he nailed on the head.
“Fuck off, Lukas.”
Connor was still laughing when Coach called us to be quiet.
“Welcome, Sharks! Huge thanks to Gage and Bailey for hosting us today. Sure is a hell of a lot prettier than having a potluck in the locker room!”
A murmur of laughter rolled through the crowd.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you how proud I am of how you’re already playing this season. To help us reach even higher...more cup-like goals, I hired us a statistician straight out of MIT.”
Clapping erupted in our little crowd.
“I figured you’d like that.”
Two figures appeared behind Coach, but from this angle, I couldn't see much.
“I’d also like to welcome home my daughters. Some of you remember them from before they went to college, and to everyone else, hands-off.”
Laughter rolled through the team, and Coach smiled good-naturedly, but his eyes told me he was pretty damn serious.
“So, I’d like you to meet Ivy,” a blonde stepped forward, and she looked just like—
“And Pepper, your new statistician.”
My blonde took his other side, smiling over the banister.
Mother-fucking shitastic son-of-a-bitch, damn. Damn. Damn.
“Twins?” Connor asked, his mouth dropping.
“Identical,” Lukas commented before trying to stifle his laughter.
My eyes locked with Pepper’s, and it was there again, even across the thirty feet that separated us—that sizzling crack of energy.
Maybe they were twins, but they looked different enough that I immediately knew which was mine.
“You’re so fucked,” Lukas said with a shake of his head as the team clapped.
“You mean, you’d like to get fucked?” Connor questioned.
“Nope. That one he got absolutely right,” I answered. Pepper. Her name was Pepper.
The girl I’d just fantasized about fucking against the wall was the one girl I couldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Hell, I was supposed to keep all the guys away from her...while working with her on my stats.
Yeah. “I’m absolutely fucked.”