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Chapter no 1 – Hannah

Bagging the Blueliner

Ten Years Later

THE DRAFT WAS OVER, and free agency opened in less than twenty-four hours. It was crunch time.

Don’t get me wrong. This was one of the most exciting times of the year in the hockey world, only behind actually winning a championship. I learned at an early age that the choices made in the next few days would alter the course of the next season, either for the better or the worse.

The Connecticut Comets were my team, or more accurately, my dad’s team. He was their head coach, but I didn’t get too hung up on titles— everyone knew who was really pulling the strings.

I grew up at the rink, where being called a rink rat was worn like a badge of honor. Being the youngest of the three Moreau girls, I didn’t get to enjoy the front half of my dad’s playing career—where he mainly stayed with the team that had drafted him, the Houston Heroes. By the time I came around, he was team-hopping every other year, chasing the dying embers of his playing days.

Most people have heard of a military brat. Well, I was a hockey brat. Born in Salt Lake City, we moved to San Diego when I was three, then to

Portland when I was five. After that, it was consecutive one-year stints in New Orleans, San Francisco, Denver, Halifax, and finally, Milwaukee.

I was ten when Dad finally hung up his skates. My sisters, Allison and Chrissy, were much older than me—Allison ten years older, and Chrissy eight. It didn’t take much guesswork to determine that I was my parents’ “whoopsie baby.” That meant my sisters were off to college by the time Dad stopped playing, and I was left as an only child.

Hockey was Dad’s life—and by extension, mine—so retirement didn’t mean leaving the game. He’d transitioned seamlessly into coaching, taking a role with the Connecticut Comets’ minor league affiliate, the Providence Prowlers. Moving up the ranks from assistant to head coach, it wasn’t long before the Comets asked him to take over the helm of a flailing team.

Hartford became home when I was fourteen, and I couldn’t imagine ever leaving. It’s where I’d built my life.

There were perks that came with being the daughter of the head coach. I had unlimited access to team facilities, box seats for every home game, and was granted the opportunity to become the official anthem singer of the Comets.

It also meant that I was constantly surrounded by the hunky men who carved up the ice to the raucous cheers of the crowd. The dolled-up puck bunnies envied my easy rapport with the players, but I was the one who was jealous of them.

On day one with the Comets, Dad had made it crystal clear to every player in his locker room that his daughters were off-limits. Yes, my sisters were old enough to date players at twenty-four and twenty-two then, but I was only fourteen. It might seem that I was too young, but the hotshots fresh from the draft were eighteen. I was a freshman in high school, and they were the same age as the seniors. It wasn’t completely crazy to think one of them might look at me differently.

What Dad hadn’t counted on was that I would take his “don’t date my daughters” policy and twist it into a personal challenge. Nothing rankled me more than someone telling me what not to do.

I was raised around the game, constantly surrounded by players. I lived and breathed hockey. It only made sense that when I got older, I would want to choose a partner who played the sport I loved.

It was the only world I’d ever known. I wouldn’t know what to do with a regular guy.

Trust me, I’d tried.

I would make a fantastic hockey wife. I wasn’t one of those fawning idiots who knew nothing about the game—only after a good fuck and their money. Not that I would turn my nose up at the hot sex those bitches always bragged about. I understood the hockey world and would make a supportive partner, an equal.

Only, stupid Dad and his rule were standing in my way.

I was confident someone would break rank eventually, giving me my chance, but it would seem they were more scared of my dad than I expected.

They all treated me like their little sister, even those younger than me. I hated it.

That brought me to my task today. Finding new players in free agency was my only chance. None of the current players were willing to go against their coach. I needed fresh blood—someone I could get to before Dad made his annual speech.

Coaches’ daughters married players all the time, so why couldn’t I? What was so wrong about living the life my parents lived?

I was bound and determined that, this year, I would find one willing to throw caution to the wind and take a chance with me.

At thirty-one, I wasn’t getting any younger. Every year, the age of the players shifted—more of them were younger than me, and fewer were older.

I had no interest in training a puppy.

Seated in the basement theater of my parents’ house, I scoured over hours of film, analyzing potential players for the Comets to pick up for next season. It wasn’t an easy task—there were many factors at play.

Each team was limited on how much they could spend on their players each season—the salary cap—so I needed to find players who met our specific needs while staying within our budget. Most of our cap was already earmarked for returning players, so I was bargain-hunting, in a sense. I needed to find players with unrealized potential who were overlooked by other teams.

The film I watched had been compiled by one of the scouting teams, and a few players caught my eye, so I kept meticulous notes, placing names into

columns—hard pass, maybe, and strong possibility.

A clip of a goalie flashed on the screen. That was not at all what I was looking for in my quest for a hockey life partner. Goalies were complete psychopaths. Sure, they were limber as hell, but who willingly agreed to place their body in front of a one-hundred-mile-per-hour slap shot?

Next!

The next player caught my eye—Jenner Knight of the Indianapolis Speed. He was entering his eighth year playing professional hockey, and this would be his first time being an unrestricted free agent. He played a hard game with strength and grit.

Grit. Now, that didn’t sound so bad. I could work with that.

Jenner was twenty-eight—a touch younger than me—but was divorced, proving he was commitment-minded. He seemed like the perfect fit, both on and off the ice.

“I heard he’s planning to re-sign with Indy.” A familiar voice filtered through the open door to the theater.

Keeping my eyes on the screen—watching Jenner’s effortless movements and wondering how they would translate to the bedroom—I sighed. “That’s a damn shame. We could use a guy like that.”

I could use a guy like that.

“You’re not wrong. He’s a talented player. Any team would be lucky to have him.” Dad fully entered the room, taking the heavily padded home theater chair to my right.

He might be my dad, but Ace Moreau was a hockey legend to most. It was easy to see why. In his prime, he’d won three championships with the Houston Heroes. He knew what it took to win, and as a coach, he worked hard to bring out the best in his players.

The Comets were inching ever closer to winning that elusive championship trophy, and the pieces we added this off-season could make all the difference.

Patting my knee, he chuckled. “You always were my hockey buddy. How long have you been down here watching film?”

Checking my smartwatch, I noted the time. “Four hours. This film’s not going to watch itself. We need to be ready when free agency opens tomorrow.”

“You know we pay people to do this, right?”

I’d heard this song and dance before. “Yes, but do any of them know more than me?”

There was a hint of a smile in his voice. “One or two of them might have some experience, being former players and all.”

He meant it as a joke, but the insinuation grated on me and I turned on him. “Are you saying that because I’m a girl and can’t play the same professional game as the men, I don’t have an intimate knowledge of the game?”

“Hanny, you know I would never say that. Sometimes, I think you can analyze the game better than me.”

I huffed. “Then why is it a problem if I want to spend my Friday night watching film? Is my insight not valuable to the front office?”

“Of course it is.” Dad tapped his fingers on the armrest of his chair. “I know how much you love the game, and maybe it was wrong of me to try and keep you from it.”

Oh my God. This is it.

He was going to lift the daughter-dating ban. It was about damn time. My older sisters were married, and Dad had finally seen the light. He recognized that I was a grown woman and could make my own dating decisions.

I’d been patient—well, not really—and now I was being rewarded. “I’m listening,” I prompted.

“I talked to some people, and I think it’s time to bring you on in a professional capacity, working with the Comets.”

Wait, what?

“You’re offering me a job?” I asked, stunned at how quickly my hope was dashed. I should have known better. No one was as stubborn as my dad, except maybe me.

“Well, you’re not exactly working at the moment. I thought bringing you on to the Comets would be right up your alley.”

He wasn’t wrong about my employment status, but it still stung. I had a nasty habit of career-hopping.

My passion was singing, but I was unwilling to move to pursue that dream beyond anthem singing for the Comets.

I’d tried my hand at being an influencer, but apparently, I was too outspoken for some people. Who even knew that was a thing? I was of the

opinion that you could take me as I was or leave me, but that attitude wasn’t exactly good for business. My personality was an acquired taste.

I burned through jobs at the same rate the playboys on the team burned through women. The list of failed attempts was longer than I cared to admit.

Personal shopper—again, too opinionated. Dog walker—too much cleanup.

Nanny—there were only a handful of kids I could tolerate, and they belonged to my best friend, Natalie.

Club promoter—caught too many times making out on the clock.

Yeah, I wasn’t particularly proud of my inability to hold down a job or my continued reliance on my parents for financial support.

I didn’t know what it was. Nothing had ever clicked and made me happy.

Maybe what I was searching for didn’t exist. “I don’t know, Dad . . .” I protested.

“You haven’t even heard what the position is.”

Ugh. He had me there. “Okay, what’s this amazing job you have for me with the Comets?”

“Well, I know how much you love to have your hand in the game, and what better way to be at every game than to take on the role of our travel coordinator? You’d be responsible for contacting the hotels we use in each city, booking the rooms, and organizing any other accommodations we might need there. It also would require you to travel on the road with the team. How can you say no to that? Plus, the pay would allow you to move out of here and get your own place.”

Eyeing him, I asked, “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

He softened, reaching out to grasp my hand. “Of course not, Hanny. We love having you here, but wouldn’t it be nice to get your own space? To not have to worry about coming in late and having the dogs go ballistic thinking you’re an intruder?”

Twisting my lips, I mulled over my options. I could say no and try to find another dead-end job, or I could say yes and spend even more time with the players. It did have an upside. On the road, I could try to figure out the local hangouts of the home team’s players and maybe snag someone whose livelihood my father hadn’t threatened.

Before I could respond, Dad added, “Your closest friends are successful, career-minded women. They should inspire you to follow in their footsteps. This is your chance.”

Contrary to a fault, I countered, “Not Natalie.”

A shadow passed over my dad’s blue eyes. “Natalie has a trust fund and married well. Twice.” He held up two fingers for emphasis.

Natalie, along with Amy, were my two best friends. I met them on my first day attending school in Hartford when they’d graciously taken pity on me and invited me to sit with them at lunch. I didn’t often get along with girls because I fell in with the boys—it wasn’t my fault I talked sports all the time. Other girls saw me as a threat, and teenage girls could be mean. If it weren’t for Amy and Natalie, I was pretty sure I would’ve lived a life without female friends. Their sister-in-law, Lucy, moved nearby recently, rounding out our girl gang.

Dad wasn’t kidding when he said that Natalie had married well. Believe it or not, both Natalie and Amy had married European princes—brother princes, to be exact. For any other woman, that might be enough to make them feel inferior and jealous, but not me. I wasn’t cut out for that life. I was born into the world of men carving up the ice, and it was in my blood. It was rough and dirty, and made me feel alive.

Natalie got married right out of high school to the oldest brother, Leo, who turned out to be a real piece of work. She’d barely escaped his clutches with her three children, returning home and getting a second chance. Then, she fell in love with the Comets’ captain, Jaxon Slate, and had another baby with him. They’re happily married, and she was living the dream—my dream. I wasn’t interested in Jaxon, but I coveted her lifestyle.

Amy wound up married to Leo’s younger brother, Liam, about two years ago. If you looked up “big and broody” in the dictionary, you’d find Liam’s picture beside it. He was a giant hulk of a man, with a matching scowl, but was as loyal and protective as they came. Amy had needed help with a work situation, and Liam stepped up, offering to marry her. They didn’t start out as a romantic relationship, but now they were very much in love. They split their time between Hartford and Liam’s home country of Belleston, where Amy was very involved in creating new charities to serve the needs of others.

Then there was Lucy, our newest girl gang member. The little sister of Leo and Liam, she was only a couple of years younger than us. A badass boss bitch, Lucy ran two of her own fashion labels and was working toward launching a third. This October, she was getting married to Preston, a local nobleman’s son, but it was very hush-hush. They were trying to keep

everything under wraps so the press wouldn’t hound them on their special day.

Dad was trying to make me fit into the mold of a life he thought I should have. Couldn’t he see that I was born to stand out?

I couldn’t deny that getting my own place was a major plus, so sighing, I gave in. “Fine. I’ll take the job. For one season. On one condition.”

Cringing, knowing my demand could be just about anything, he dared to ask, “What is it?”

“I still get to sing the anthem at home games.”

Sagging in his chair, his relief evident, he smiled. “Of course. It’s the bright spot of home games to see you out there.”

Warmth spread in my chest. I might be headstrong and boisterous, but I would always be a daddy’s girl. My best memories were watching warmups against the glass as a young child, waiting for the moment he skated by to blow a kiss. Or, as I got older, studying film with a bowl of popcorn when it was just the two of us. Our bond was probably why he thought he was protecting me, eliminating any possibility of me falling for one of the womanizing men who played the game.

But if he thought a job with the Comets was enough to sidetrack me from my quest, he was dead wrong.

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