So Over You(9)

By: Kate Meader

She understood. She’d spent much of her life understanding.

Dante pulled out a pocket watch from his pin-striped vest. It should have screamed “pretentious,” but instead it yelled “hot.” The guy was really too much. “I want daily updates. I’ll leave it to you to figure out a schedule that works around regular practice and games.”

“Not to mention his numerous sponsorship commitments and nightclub appearances.”

For the first time, Dante looked animated. “He’ll certainly bring in a different kind of fan.”

“Women with big . . . signs.”

He chuckled. “What’s a hockey game without glitter-covered marriage proposals and offers to incubate a star player’s spawn held up against the Plexi? Some of his fans may be proof that evolution can go in reverse, but as long as they’re putting their money where their über fandom is, then we’ll take it.”

Higher revenues meant more funds to spend on better players, which led to results and championships and butts in seats, thus feeding the hamster wheel of NHL success. She just hoped the Chase sisters would be around to see their hard work come to fruition.

“I can remake him a star on the ice as well as on billboards,” she said.

“I know, Isobel. I have every faith in you.”

If only the Russian felt the same way.

Vadim straightened his spine and ignored the pain in his knee. It wouldn’t do to have his new teammates think today’s practice had been tough on him. There was a time when he could have gone for hours, running drills, taking shots, pounding the ice. Such a time would come again. Until then, he would put his best skate forward and ensure that no one saw his elderly-man winces.

Twenty-seven years old and already in decline.

“Where y’at, man?”

Vadim looked up from his spot on the bench to find Remy DuPre, one of the Rebels’ centers, looming over him. He cast a glance left, then right before answering with, “I am here. In the locker room.”

DuPre laughed. “Sorry, Petrov, I meant how ya doin’? That’s just how we say it back in my hometown. You were skating pretty hard out there.”

Vadim assessed the man before him. Tall, but then most hockey players were. Thirty-five years old, but he held himself well for a man of his age. Most important was the fact that he was in a relationship with Harper Chase, the oldest of the Chase sisters. The headlines had died down during the last month, but Vadim had to wonder at the judgment of any man who would place himself in such a position with a woman. Sleeping with the woman who paid his salary and controlled his career? Not the most strategic of moves.

After a few days in Chicago, Vadim was still trying to work out the team dynamic. DuPre acted like the captain, though that official honor belonged to Bren St. James, a dour Scotsman who would give a gulag commander a run for his money. There didn’t appear to be any tension between DuPre and St. James; their command of the team was close to co-rule.

“I’m fine,” Vadim said, squaring his shoulders. “I expected the practice would go longer. That’s how it was in Quebec.”

“Oh yeah?” DuPre sat on the bench and started to unlace his skates. “Guess we decided to take it easy on ya, seein’ as how it’s your first week and all.”

Easy? Sure they did. They were testing his limits, how far to push him, whether he needed special handling because he was fighting his way back to full fitness. This was good. Vadim didn’t miss his old team, where in truth he was not used to the best of his abilities. When trading him in, Coach Calhoun had said they planned to use him on the left wing. Usually, right-handers such as Vadim were invariably placed on the right, but Coach and the team had recognized that his natural fit was his off side. Such intuition gave Vadim confidence that the Rebels knew what they were doing—at least in the coaching arena.

As for the rest of the Rebels organization . . . a team owned and run by women. Vadim had no problem with women running things, though he would prefer they did not fraternize off the ice, especially in his world of clubs and girls. He had invited his new teammates to the Vesna vodka PR event, as it was the sociable thing to do, and apparently Cade Burnett, the Texan defenseman, was friendly with Violet, the youngest Chase daughter. Vadim had known he would run into Isobel eventually, but he had not expected the judgment in her moss-colored eyes or the snark on her crimson lips. This was not the innocent adoration of before, a fresh virgin looking to be schooled in the ways of desire. This was . . . different.

Mostly, he had not expected his body’s reaction to being so close to her after all these years. Theirs had been a teenage infatuation, a singular blend of uncontrollable hormones, fortunate proximity, and the knowledge that her father would not have approved. If it had not ended so abruptly, it would have fizzled quickly. Why, all these years later, would this woman—the source of such frustration, the one who had thwarted his career—make his body hard and greedy?

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