Chapter no 4 – Cal

Bagging the Blueliner

WITH THE SEASON UNDERWAY, all was right with the world. When I was on the ice, everything else faded away, and I became laser-focused on the task at hand. My legs moved effortlessly, powered by muscle memory— the feel of the stick in my hand grounded me.

This was where I belonged.

During today’s practice, we focused on special teams and odd-man rushes. As a defenseman, these drills were my chance to shine. I played on both the power-play and penalty-kill units for the Comets—a privilege I earned after years of working my ass off, proving my worth.

Would I admit to tightening up my defensive skills after Hannah tore me a new one, claiming I was a liability to my team? Not in a million years.

Telling that girl she was right would only give her carte blanche to delve into more flaws in my game. I was an old dog now; I couldn’t learn new tricks.

When I was drafted, the Comets were firmly in a rebuild. It took years to put them in a position to make the playoffs, after careful player acquisitions and the development of prospects—one of them being me. Now, our talent was top-notch, and we were annual favorites to win the championship. Unfortunately, the pressure of all eyes on us didn’t help. We hadn’t yet been successful in our quest.

Playing with the best meant training with the best, and that only made us stronger. Our goalie, Reed, was a brick wall, so it took extreme skill to put a puck past him, even for us in practice. On the flip side, our forwards were accurate and creative, so they challenged him to stop their skillful shots.

My skills were honed through drills such as the one I found myself in now—the sole defenseman facing down a rush from Jaxon and Benji. My eyes watched the two of them approach as I skated backward with ease, searching for subtle clues about their plan of attack. The two of them had been linemates for years, which made them dangerous. They were perfectly in sync, seemingly able to read each other’s minds.

My job was to stop them before they got a shot off on Reed. As it often did, time slowed down, and I caught the subtle shift of Jaxon’s eyes in Benji’s direction. Patiently, I waited for him to make his move. A quick flick of his wrist, and the puck shot across the open ice to his partner. Jaxon was lightning-fast, but I was ready. My stick shot out, intercepting the puck before shooting it down the length of the ice in the opposite direction, effectively killing their offensive chance.

Jaxon groaned before he chuckled as the three of us skated to the end of the line run it again. Reaching over the bench to grab his water bottle, he squirted a long stream of liquid into his mouth.

Shaking his head, there was amusement in his tone. “I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. I’m glad you’re on our side, Cal.”

Knocking into his body slightly, I returned, “Feeling’s mutual, brother.”

It was a term of endearment, but my teammates—and these two in particular—were my family. They were the ones I spent holidays with, played uncle to their kids, and the ones I wanted by my side as we rode into battle on the ice.

Up until a few years ago, all three of us were single. Against all odds, Jaxon had managed to snag Natalie, and we were blessed to become hockey uncles to their daughter, Charlotte. Affectionately called Charlie, that two- year-old ball of energy had us all wrapped around her little finger.

But it had also changed our dynamic.

Jaxon didn’t come out with us anymore unless Natalie and her best friends—including Hannah—came too. On road trips, he often skipped out on dinner or other activities to video chat with his kids. Charlie was his biological daughter, but Natalie came with three older kids from her first

marriage. Jaxon, being the genuinely good guy he was, stepped right into the father-figure role for all of them.

As much as I mourned the loss of our bachelor trio, family life suited Jaxon. Having barely turned thirty, he was playing the best hockey of his career.

Running through the two-on-one drill a few more times, Coach blew his whistle, ending practice for the day.

Our first few games were played at home, but this afternoon, we were headed out on our first road trip of the season. The first stop was Halifax, then onto Quebec City before returning home.

The team shuffled down the hall to our locker room, everyone sitting at their assigned stalls, removing their gear. Travel days meant practice, packing, and plane—in that order. There wasn’t time to dawdle, and the race to the showers was on.

My skates and top gear were off when I heard an all-too-familiar voice coming through the door. “All right, boys! First road trip of the season is on deck, and I’ll be your cruise director, Hannah.”

That earned her a few chuckles from the guys around me, but I inwardly groaned. That girl always needed to be the center of attention, and it was getting on my nerves.

After the moment we’d shared at the barbeque, I didn’t trust myself to look up at her, so I busied myself, stripping the tape off the blade of my stick.

“I will be your point of contact regarding accommodations and team transportation while we are on the road, so don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you need anything.” Hannah paused, then added, “And I mean anything.”

Jesus, could she be any more obvious?

The implication that she was willing and open to sex was clear, but in the ten years I’d been with the Comets, no one had broken rank and messed with any of Coach’s three daughters, so I let it slide. That was until I heard one lone catcall—a suggestive whistle to my right.

My head snapped up, blood roaring in my ears.

Which idiot thought it appropriate to openly leer at Hannah?

Yeah, because you haven’t been doing that for ten years.

Telling my inner voice to shut the hell up, I located the source of the noise—Levi Nixon. Fucker didn’t even have the good sense to hide his

interest. He was one of the younger players on the team, and it was no secret that he liked to push boundaries.

“Watch it,” I growled in his direction.

“Mind your own damn business, Cal.” Hannah’s annoyed voice cut through my haze of rage, and I forced myself to look at her.

Hands on her hips, she openly glared at me. If she thought I was going to sit idly by while one of the young guns had a go at her, she had another thing coming.

If I couldn’t have her, no one could.

I knew I was being irrational, but I didn’t care.

Staring back at Hannah, I couldn’t stop myself from doing what I always did when she was in a room—scanning her gorgeous body from head to toe. She probably didn’t realize that a pissed-off Hannah was the hottest of them all.

Long brown hair accented with caramel highlights fell softly around her face, her cheeks pink in anger. A beige blazer hung off her shoulders. Underneath, she wore what looked like a floral lace-up corset that left a few inches of skin exposed below her navel. Swallowing hard, I scanned further down over her muscular thighs trapped tightly by dark denim until I reached her feet, clad in . . .

What the hell?

Without thinking, I rose from my stall, swiftly closing the distance to where Hannah stood and sweeping her into my arms. There was a fleeting moment before she realized what I’d done before she began to pound on my chest the best she could, tightly tucked against my bare chest.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Put me down!” she screeched. Was she serious right now? Or just plain stupid?

“Not until you wear appropriate footwear in the locker room.”

“Footwear?” Hannah’s brow wrinkled in confusion. Kicking her feet, one of the offending items fell to the floor. “What’s wrong with my shoes?”

My blood pressure shot straight through the roof. “Are you insane? You walked into a locker room—a hockey locker room—wearing fucking flip- flops? Do you not care about losing a toe? In case you’ve forgotten, we walk around here with the equivalent of knives on our feet.”

Hannah’s brilliant blue eyes bored into mine. I was so lost in them that I didn’t notice when they hardened, but I heard the anger in her voice. “Put. Me. Down. Now.”

Turning her own words from our last interaction around on her, I challenged, “Make me.”

Her soft intake of breath brought me back to reality, and I was suddenly very aware of how incredible it felt to have Hannah in my arms.

This couldn’t happen. We couldn’t happen. Ever.

Get that through your thick skull.

“Yo, Cal!” Benji’s cheerful voice was loud enough to be heard over my racing heart.

What was he so happy about? The fact that I was making a total ass of myself? I wouldn’t put it past him.

Breaking eye contact with Hannah, I looked over at him. “What?”

“Um, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Hannah always wears flip- flops at the rink . . . It’s kinda her thing.”

Stunned, I could only stare at him as I released my grip on Hannah, and she tortuously slid down my body until her feet touched the ground. The next thing I knew, she was shoving at me. Hard.

Normally, she wouldn’t be able to move me even if she got a running start—our size difference was too great—but I was still reeling over the fact that there was something about this woman I’d overlooked. Stumbling back, I caught myself before falling into the cart set in the middle of the locker room, designated for our dirty practice jerseys.

Chest rising and falling rapidly, Hannah looked like a bull about to charge. “Not that it’s any of your business, Cal, but I am acutely aware of where everyone’s skates are at all times. Maybe you should spend less time worrying about my shoes and more time focusing on your game. Correct me if I’m wrong. Your contract is up at the end of the year, is it not?”

“Oh, damn,” an unidentified voice called out.

Not giving me a chance to respond, she addressed the room once more. “Today’s flight departs at three this afternoon. Make sure you’re at the hangar no later than two o’clock.”

Without another word, she slipped on the shoe that fell to the floor when I’d picked her up and left the room.

Silence descended upon the locker room, and I felt all eyes on me. Fuck.

Deliberately avoiding eye contact with my teammates, I stalked back to my stall, taking a seat with a heavy sigh. The normal bustle of the room

resumed, but I kept my gaze firmly on the ground, my muscles vibrating from how tightly I was wound.

Not reading my body language, Benji gleefully remarked, “You know, people pay big bucks to come watch us on the ice, but we could make good money selling tickets to the Cal and Hannah Hate Show. Gets me every time.”

“Can it, Benji,” I snapped.

Chuckling, he didn’t drop it. “How have you never noticed she always wears flip-flops? Make sure not to put ‘detail-oriented’ on any resumes going forward.”

Jaxon made a noise like he was trying to stifle his laughter, so I turned on him. “You know, this is all your fault.”

Amused, Jaxon folded his arms and leaned back. “Okay, tell me what I did.”

“You had to go and marry Natalie, and now I don’t have a moment of peace.”

That fucker smirked at me. “I’m not sorry.” “Of course, you’re not,” I grumbled.

Why would he be? He got the girl of his dreams, and the impossible suddenly became possible. Even if Natalie hadn’t been married with kids when he met her, she fell under Coach’s protection, often referred to as the fourth Moreau daughter. She was untouchable to Comets players, but did that stop Jaxon? No.

Our resident golden boy had taken what he wanted and lived to tell the tale. Now, he was living the life he’d always dreamed of, and I was living in hell.

I wanted to punch the smug look right off his pretty-boy face.

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