Rookie Move(9)

By: Sarina Bowen


“Um, thanks?”

The captain had an evil grin. “I know it’s weird. I still have all the old pennants in a box somewhere. If Kattenberger knew, he’d probably send one of his ninja minions to my apartment to have ’em incinerated. Where else you play hockey?”

“Drafted by Detroit. Sent down to Muskegon’s AHL team for two seasons. Harkness College before that.”

O’Doul’s expression chilled. “Aw, an Ivy League boy. That’s cute.”

Somebody has a chip on his shoulder. Looking for a change of topic, Leo nodded at O’Doul’s purple rep stripes. “Did the owner choose the new color, too?”

O’Doul tugged on his tie. “You betcha. Him and a bunch of million dollar marketing gurus. We call it indigo, ’cause that sounds better than purple.”

Leo laughed. “Thanks for the tip.”

“Stick with me, kid. Might want to grab yourself a bottle of water. If you’re the new guy, they might make you say a few words at the press conference. Publicist will let you know. Though maybe they won’t get around to it, because the whole coach thing is a pretty big story.”

Ugh. “No kidding.”

“The last guy got fired—what—a year and a half ago, now? Kattenberger had to do it. The guy was a good coach, but you don’t trash-talk the new owner like that. Then an interim coach got cancer. So now it’s on to Worthington. He’s another Long Island guy. Could be worse, right?”

No, actually. It could not be worse, even if the coach was his dead aunt Maria Theresa. “Where did you say that water was?”

He pointed to the corner. “Espresso machine is over there, too, if that’s your thing.”

“Thanks.” Leo made his way over to the corner, stopping every few feet as the guys reached out to shake his hand.

“Thanks,” he said a half dozen times. “Great to be here.” But he probably wasn’t all that convincing. Wait until they watched a snarling Coach Karl ship his ass back to Michigan. That would be a fun moment. They’d all be wondering what the hell he did to piss off Coach.

Leo would be wondering, too.

Once upon a time, he and Coach Worthington were tight. Karl had been a college coach then, but he’d done some development work with Leo’s high school team. The man had taught him a lot, and had always had time for Leo.

At the same time, Leo was dating his daughter, Georgia. There are some dads who hate their little girl’s boyfriend on principle. But Coach Karl hadn’t seemed like that sort of dad. And anyway, Leo had treated Georgia like a queen until the day she’d broken his heart. When Leo looked back on high school, loving Georgia was actually the one thing in his life he knew he’d done right. Maybe he wasn’t as good a big brother to his siblings as he should have been. And maybe he was a pain in the ass to his teachers. But Leo had been really good to Georgia Worthington, from the moment he asked her to the homecoming dance their sophomore year until the day of high school graduation, when she cut him loose.

It wasn’t quite as simple as puppy love running its course, though. A few months before graduation, something terrible had happened to Georgia, and Leo wasn’t around to stop it. The last part of their senior year, they’d both suffered. And sometime during those dark days, Coach Worthington stopped approving of Leo. At the time, Leo had been too worried about Georgia to wonder much about her father’s change of heart. His disapproval meant nothing to Leo—there’d been only Georgia and her pain. He’d stuck by her side, loyal to the very end.

Goddamn it, he was good to her. Then she’d pushed him away.

And now Leo was standing in front of a glass refrigerator full to the top with water and Gatorade, his fists clenched, upset all over again by the anguish he’d tried to put aside for the last six years.

“Just open ’er up and take one,” a voice said beside him. “Anytime you need.”

“Thanks,” he said gruffly. He realized he’d been staring at the row of bottles as if they’d provide the secrets of the universe. He yanked open the door and snagged a bottle of water.

“I’m Silas Kelly,” the guy beside him said, thrusting out a meaty hand. “Backup goalie.”

Leo shook. “Good to meet you. How long you been a Bruiser?” God, that sounded ridiculous.

Silas grinned. “This is my rookie year. Spent some time in Ontario on an ECHL team. Got traded in September.”

“Cool.”

“I’ve played four games. Hoping the new coach is a fan so I can get off the bench a little more often.”

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