Between a Jock and a Hard Place: A Romance Novella

BOOK: Between a Jock and a Hard Place: A Romance Novella
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Between
a Jock

and a Hard Place

by

Mona Ingram

 

Former title:

Blogging From the Heart

 

 

 

 

© 2012 Mona
Ingram

 

All rights
reserved. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously,
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments,
events or locations is entirely coincidental.

Chapter One

“I’m not taking no for an answer and
that’s that!”

Claire winced and held the phone away;
the background noise was deafening, and Zoey was shouting to be heard.

“Listen, I know sports bars aren’t your
favourite thing, but you have to get out.”

Claire rolled her eyes. It was a waste
of time to fight with her friend when she was in one of her moods. Zoey would
just keep calling until she caved. “Oh, all right. I’ll be there in about half
an hour.” She disconnected and tossed her cell onto her bed. She knew she’d
probably regret giving in, even though her friend was right; she did need to
get out. Especially since it was Saturday and she’d spent the day working on a
project. That was the downside of being a freelance graphic designer... the
work was always there... waiting.

She flicked through the clothes in her
closet and grabbed the first thing she saw. A black turtle-neck sweater and
black slacks. She changed quickly and looked at herself in the mirrored closet
door. “Great,” she muttered aloud. “I look like a piece of licorice.” Her cap
of flaming red hair was the only colourful thing about her. “To be more
specific” she said, a wry smile on her lips, “a licorice cigar. The kind with
the little red sprinkles on the end.” She dressed quickly and left before Zoey
called again.

Claire paused at the door to the bar.
The sound was almost more than she could stand, but she was here now, plus
she’d promised. Zoey and Tony always sat in the same spot, and she fought her
way through the crowd. Her friend was there now, seated at one of the many long
bar-height tables facing the massive screens. The table was littered with beer
jugs, glasses, nacho baskets and the remains of an order of hot wings. She
miraculously found a stool on the opposite side of the table and cleared a
space. “Where’s Tony?” she asked, looking around.

“Gone to the head.” Zoey had taken to
dropping nautical terms into her conversation ever since taking a party cruise
in Vancouver harbour a few weeks ago. Claire knew it would pass; it was one of
the quirky things she loved about her friend. Zoey lowered her voice a couple
of notches. “Listen, I just spotted a guy I want you to meet. He’s hot, hot,
hot. We see him in here all the time, and he’s hardly ever with a woman.”

Hardly ever. Yeah, right. Claire knew
what that meant. “No thanks, Zo. I’m not interested right now.” When would her
friend learn that jocks didn’t interest her? She ordered a white wine spritzer
from the server and climbed up on the stool.

“Well too bad, ‘cause he’s on his way
over here right now.” Zoey raised a hand. “Hey Kyle, I want you to meet my
friend Claire.”

“Well, hello Claire!” He braced an elbow
against the bar and gave her his full attention. She’d be willing to take bets
that he rehearsed the move at home.

“Hello, Kyle.” She stuck out her hand.
He looked down for a moment as though unsure what to do with it. Claire managed
to suppress a smile. “Nice to meet you.”

He recovered, and brought her hand to
his lips. “The pleasure is all mine.”

She almost groaned aloud at the corny
line but was distracted by the arrival of her drink.

“Let me get that,” he offered, reaching
for his wallet.

She already had her money out. “Thanks
for the offer, but I like to buy my own drinks.”

“Fair enough.” He gestured to her glass.
“What are you drinking?”

“It’s a white wine spritzer.”

He made a face. “Nobody drinks those anymore.”

She gave him her sweetest smile. “They
do if they have to work tomorrow.”

A roar went up from the crowd and Kyle
turned around. “What did I miss?” he asked Zoey over his shoulder.

“Vancouver scored!” Zoey was bouncing up
and down, the oversized Canucks shirt flapping at the arms.

Claire watched the delirious crowd as
they relived the goal through several replays. All over the province the same
scene would be playing out...in bars, in homes, and those unfortunate enough to
be working would be covertly listening on the radio. She sometimes wished that
she could be more enthusiastic about the great national pastime, but that
wasn’t going to happen. Not in this lifetime, anyway.

“You’re not watching!” Kyle’s eyes were
lit with excitement. “That was a classic goal.”

“She never watches.” Zoey had settled
back down and took a drink from her beer glass.

“You don’t like hockey?” Kyle looked at
her as though she’d grown horns. “Why not?”

Claire didn’t really want to explain,
but the disbelief in his tone compelled her to speak. “I grew up with hockey.
My father is obsessed with the sport and he had my brother on skates as soon as
he could stand up. It was all anyone ever talked about in our house, and to be
honest I just got to the point where I started to tune out.”

Looking back now, she had to admire her
father’s dedication. The early morning practices, the endless purchasing of
equipment, the unfailing support. Hockey in her home had been a family affair.
She couldn’t begin to count the number of games she’d been to when Cam was just
starting out; sitting cold and miserable on the benches in an unheated rink.
Fortunately for Cameron, his hard work had paid off and he was now playing in
the minor leagues, with realistic hopes of NHL stardom in his future.

She loved her twin; there would always
be that unbreakable twin bond, but that didn’t mean she had to be overly
enthusiastic about his sport. Her one concession was Cameron’s games. She’d
attended every one since he started in the minor leagues, cheering him on along
with her parents and his current girlfriend.

The latter was subject to change without
notice; it seemed that hockey players had their pick of willing women and her
brother was no exception.

“So.....” Kyle was struggling to come up
with something to say. His gaze darted around the bar, resting briefly on each
of the screens, some of which actually showed sports other than hockey. “Do you
like any sports?”

Claire pretended to think. She didn’t
want to be difficult, but she had nothing in common with this man. “I like
tennis,” she said finally.

That blank look came over his face again
and she took pity on him. “I started watching Rafa Nadal when he was seventeen
and I’ve followed his career ever since.”

He opened his mouth and she thought he
was going to prolong the conversation, but he’d spotted Tony returning to the
table and relief flooded his face. “Hey, man!” he said. “You missed a great
goal.” They fell into a discussion and Claire turned back to Zoey.

“Why do I bother?” her friend asked,
shaking her head. “What’s wrong with this one?”

Claire gave a small shrug. “Nothing.
He’s actually quite good looking.”

Zoey leaned across the table even though
there was no danger of their conversation being overheard in the cacophony of
the bar. “Listen, my friend. You had a bad experience with Harrison, but that’s
over now.”

Her friend was right, but it didn’t make
the hurt any less. “I’m just not ready, you know?” She met Zoey’s eyes.

“Okay, but promise me you won’t bury
yourself in work to the exclusion of everything else. What’s that all about,
anyway?”

“I’ve got this crazy idea that I might
take some time off and go to Hawaii. I’ve looked online and there are some
fantastic places to rent, right on the beach.”

“You’re kidding! You, Claire Collins,
actually taking time off? Pull the other one.”

“I’m serious, Zoey.”

“And when were you going to discuss it
with me, your best friend?”

“I just started thinking about it.
Remember last week when it rained for three days in a row?” She gave a small
laugh. “That was enough to make anyone think about sunshine.”

Zoey nodded. “Ain’t that the truth.” She
waved a hand. “Ignore me; I’m just jealous that I can’t go with you. Tony’s
parents are having a big do for their thirtieth wedding anniversary in May and
we’ve promised to go to Toronto.” She groaned. “Not exactly a tropical
destination.”

“Never mind, it’ll be fun.” Claire
motioned toward Zoey’s engagement ring. “And it’ll be a great way to get to
know them before you and Tony get married.”

“Yeah, there is that.” Her eyes took on
a faraway look. Claire waited for her to come back from wherever she’d gone.

“Have you ever thought about doing a
blog?” Zoey asked, apropos of nothing.

“Like I have so much extra time.” Claire
frowned. “Besides, I don’t have anything I want to blog about.” She paused.
“Why do you ask?”

“It’s the newspaper. The owner thinks we
should have a series of bloggers. Anonymous of course, to keep it interesting.”

Claire snorted. “Anonymous so they can
get away with saying outrageous things, is more like it.”

Zoey grinned. “That, too.”

Claire thought for a moment. “It might
not be such a bad idea. Those new owners are clever, I’ll give them that. For
one thing, they hired you to oversee production; that proves they’re a smart
bunch of guys. When you told me about the group of people willing to buy an old
web press and start a new, hip newspaper I thought they were crazy. Especially
with traditional newspapers closing all over the place.”

Zoey nodded. “They know their market.”
She glanced at Kyle, who was still deep in conversation with Tony. “Who knew
there were so many people our age who still want to read newspapers?”

“And with their online presence they
cover all the bases.” Claire tilted up her glass, surprised to see that it was
empty. “If I think of anyone, I’ll let you know, okay?”

“Yeah, sure.” Zoey’s attention was back
on the screen behind Claire. When that happened it was a clear signal that it
was time to go.

“I’ll call you in a few days, okay?”
Claire winced as the sound went up several decibels. “Maybe we can meet for
lunch. Somewhere we can hear ourselves think.”

“Okay.” Zoey was tugging at Tony’s
shirt, pointing to the screen.

Claire left the bar and stood outside,
hesitating. Cab or bus? If she was even going to think about a holiday, she’d
better get more serious about conserving cash. Besides, it was only a short run
on the bus straight down Robson Street and as fate would have it, the bus was
pulling up. She hopped on, and then got off a few minutes later on the corner
of Denman and walked the block and a half to her apartment.

A fine mist was falling, but she was
lost in thought and scarcely noticed it. Zoey was right, of course. She
couldn’t automatically assume that every man she met was going to break her
heart. She opened the front door, walked into the generic lobby and pushed the
button for the elevator. In those quiet, introspective moments that seemed to
come more often these days, she had to admit that she was angry at herself as
much as at Harrison. Angry because she’d been completely taken in by his charm,
his good looks, and most of all, his ability to spin a picture of the future
that she’d bought... hook, line and sinker!

It had been such an old, clichéd
situation. Married man in an unhappy marriage. Divorce pending. ‘I love you
Babe.’ Everything a girl longed to hear. Only back then, in that first flush of
what she’d thought was love, she’d heard what she wanted to hear.

She would have been a lot farther ahead
if she’d listened to Zoey. Her uncompromising friend always saw things in black
and white. But of course that would have been too easy. The truth was, she
hadn’t wanted to push Harrison, in spite of her growing uneasiness. And then
one day she’d seen him with his wife, and watched the obvious closeness between
them. It had been one of the worst days of her life. Even now, thinking about
it, her breath caught in her throat. She wouldn’t be fooled again.

She let herself into her apartment,
kicked off her shoes and wandered over to the full length window. It overlooked
the harbour, and in the daytime she could see parts of Stanley Park. She raised
her eyes to the lights of the North Shore. Off to the left in West Vancouver,
her parents were no doubt watching the late news before retiring for the night.

She pulled the drapes and wandered into
her office. The rough layout of her latest project was taped to her drafting
board; she turned on the light and studied it for a moment. She liked to sketch
out her ideas before turning to the computer. She found it easier to adjust her
thinking at this point, rather than after she’d put in several hours writing
code. She was setting up a major commercial website and wasn’t sure if she
liked what she’d done so far, but something told her to leave it alone and
tackle it in the morning.

BOOK: Between a Jock and a Hard Place: A Romance Novella
2.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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