By: Leslie Kelly

“IT WAS THE slap heard ’round the wide world of sports. For a nanosecond, I felt the thrill of victory. Then when I realized what I’d done—and in front of whom—I felt the pure agony of defeat.”

After making that pronouncement, Viv Callahan lifted her glass of wine and gulped a mouthful. Her two best friends, Lulu and Amelia, didn’t touch theirs. Both of them looked shocked by what Viv had just told them.

“Seriously?” asked Lulu, her big brown eyes round. “You slapped hockey star Bruno Neeley across the face, in front of the other players, the press and your own boss?”

“I’m afraid so.” Viv rubbed her hand. It had been red for a half hour after she’d whacked the jerk, and it was still sore now, hours later. “Every hockey fan knows the creep’s head is harder than a rock. But I never realized his face was just as hard.”

Maybe it was because his entire skull—including whatever excuse he’d once had for a brain—had calcified.

“I’m so sorry,” said Amelia, the gentlest of their trio. Proving she could also be feisty, she added, “What a prick.”

“Thanks. You know I can put up with a lot. But when he shoved his tongue down my throat and tried to get his hand between my legs—in a room full of people—I went straight to DEFCON One.”

She couldn’t recall a moment in her life when she’d been more shocked. Surrounded by coworkers at a publicity party she’d helped coordinate, she’d been sitting quietly in the back. Viv had been caught totally off-guard when Neeley had bent over from behind her chair. Grabbing her upper thigh—and trying to go higher—he’d yanked her face up for a kiss, wrenching her neck. As soon as she’d been able to extricate herself, she’d launched out of the chair, swung around and slapped him with all her might.

Of course the cameras had focused on that. There’d been no reason for anybody to notice what had precipitated the slap; all attention had been on the team’s general manager who’d been speaking at the time, at the front of the room. Ouch.

“You shoulda kicked him in the balls,” Lulu snapped.

“I’ve been tempted to in recent weeks. Working for the team has certainly torn the blinders off my eyes about pro athletes.”

“I don’t understand how anybody could have blinders about pro athletes,” Amelia pointed out with a small moue of distaste.

“I guess I thought they were like my brothers. Strong, a bit goofy, but with big hearts and tender souls.”

“Bruno Neeley’s as tender as a rhino,” Lulu said.

Viv ran a weary hand through her hair, pulling it out of the conservative bun she was totally sick of wearing. One good thing about potentially losing her job—at least she could stop dressing so frumpily, something her boss had advised her to do after she’d started complaining about the unwanted attention she was getting from some players on the team. And that advice had come from the head of PR, who actually liked her. She could only imagine what the general manager had said—probably something along the lines of “Get rid of her.”

“I swear, it’s as though a few of the players intentionally set out to be pigs,” she admitted. “No matter how often I politely refused, they just wouldn’t stop trying to pick me up.”

“That’s probably why,” Lulu said with a sneer. “They’re not used to hearing ‘no’ and when they realized you wouldn’t go out with any of them, you became some kind of challenge.”

“You might be right.” Viv reached again for her wine. “For the first time in my life, I try for the straight and narrow, act like a nun, and look where it gets me.”

Fired. Not officially yet, that would happen tomorrow. But one second after the impulsive swing, when she’d heard the clicking of cameras and seen the shock of the reporters gathered for this afternoon’s press reception, she’d had a mental flash of homelessness. Just because she couldn’t control her temper. And Bruno Neeley couldn’t control his libido.

It sucked. She loved her job with the Virginia Vanguard, happy to have a chance to blend her event-planning background with her knowledge of sports. With five brothers, how could she not be knowledgeable? Since childhood, she’d sat through hundreds of games, dozens of tournaments. She’d been enlisted as scorekeeper, batboy, snack runner, uniform washer, locker-room cleaner. At twelve, the smell of sweat and jockstraps had been more familiar to Viv than the latest Britney Spears perfume.

It was kind of funny in comparison to how she lived her life now. She wouldn’t go so far as to call herself a tramp, but she had a reputation. One she’d earned. Having spent the first eighteen years of her life wearing a brotherly chastity belt, she’d let loose once she’d gotten out on her own.

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