Authors: Rachel Gibson
Tags: #Actresses, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Contemporary, #Sports & Recreation, #General, #Romance, #Hockey, #Hockey Players, #Fiction
Just because a man was lucky to be alive, didn’t…
“This is great, Chels. Thanks.”
Chelsea pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head…
Mark glanced at the Neiman Marcus bags in the backseat…
Chelsea scarfed her ham sandwich and made it back to…
Though it wasn’t easy, Chelsea controlled herself during Mars Attacks!…
Chelsea looked at the tall, arrogant man in front of…
Friday afternoon, Mark looked forward to a day of doing…
“I know what you need?”
Luckily, Chelsea didn’t have to depend on her sister to…
Mark looked across the chaise at his assistant. Her hair…
Friday night when Bo got home from work, she handed…
Mark carried the last bags of groceries into the kitchen…
The Sycamore Room inside the Four Seasons glowed with golden…
Chelsea glanced over Jules’s shoulder as the band sang a…
Chelsea carried her shoes into Bo’s apartment, tiptoeing as quietly…
Chelsea sat at Mark’s desk, bored and answering e-mails while…
Mark lifted a corner of his cards and raised one…
Just because a man was lucky to be alive, didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.
“Last night, your hockey team won the Stanley Cup without you, how do you feel about that?”
Former NHL superstar and all-around badass Mark Bressler looked beyond the bank of microphones and wall of cameras to the dozen or so reporters filling the media room inside the Key Arena. He’d played for Seattle the past eight years, been the captain for the last six years. He’d worked for most of his life to hold the Stanley Cup over his head and feel the cold silver in his hands. He’d lived and breathed hockey since he’d laced up his first pair of skates. He’d left his blood on the ice and broken more bones than he could recall. Professional hockey was all he knew. All that he was, but last night his team won without him. He’d watched from his living room as the rotten bastards skated around with
cup. How in the hell did everyone think he felt? “Of course I wish I could have been there with the boys, but I’m thrilled for them. One-hundred-percent thrilled.”
“After your accident six months ago, the man sitting next to you was hired to fill your shoes,” a reporter said, referring to the veteran hockey player, Ty Savage, who’d replaced Mark as the Chinooks’ captain. “At the time, it was a controversial decision. What were your thoughts when you heard that Savage would take over?”
It was no secret that he and Savage didn’t like each other. The last time Mark remembered being this close to the man, he’d faced off with him during the regular season. He’d called Savage an overrated prima donna asshole. Savage had called him a second-rate wannabe pussy. Just another day at the office. “I was in a coma when Savage was signed. I don’t believe I had ‘thoughts’ about anything. At least none that I recall.”
“What are your thoughts now?”
That Savage is an overrated prima donna asshole
. “That management put together a winning team. All the guys worked hard and did what they had to do to bring the cup to Seattle. Heading into the playoffs we were fifty-eight and twenty-four. I don’t have to tell you that those are impressive numbers.” He paused and carefully thought out his next sentence. “It goes without saying that the Chinooks were
that Savage was available and open to the trade.” He wasn’t about to say he was grateful or the team was lucky.
The overrated prima donna asshole next to him laughed, and Mark almost liked the guy. Almost.
The reporters turned their attention to Ty. As they asked about Savage’s sudden announcement to retire the night before and his plans for the future, Mark looked down at his hand on the table before him. He’d removed the splint for the press conference, but his right middle finger was as stiff as the stainless-steel rods and pins fusing it into a permanent fuck-you.
The reporters asked questions of the other Chinooks seated at the long press table before the questions turned back to Mark. “Bressler, are you planning a comeback?” a reporter asked.
Mark glanced up and smiled as if the question didn’t poke at his deepest wound. He looked into the man’s face and reminded himself that Jim was an okay guy—for a reporter—and he’d always been fair. For that reason, Mark didn’t hold up his right hand and show his contempt. “The docs tell me no.” Although he didn’t need doctors to confirm what he’d known the moment he’d opened his eyes in the ICU. The accident that had broken half the bones in his body had shattered his life. A comeback was out of the question. Even if he’d been twenty-eight instead of thirty-eight.
General manager Darby Hogue stepped forward. “There will always be a place in the Chinooks’ organization for Mark.”
As what? He couldn’t even drive the Zamboni. Not that it mattered. If Mark couldn’t play hockey, he didn’t want to be anywhere near the ice.
The questions turned to last night’s game, and he settled back in his chair. He wrapped his good hand around the top of the cane resting against his thigh and brushed the smooth walnut handle with his thumb. On a good day, Mark hated press conferences. This wasn’t a good day but he was here, in the belly of the Key Arena, because he didn’t want to look like a poor sport. Like a jerk who couldn’t handle seeing his team win the most coveted prize in hockey without him. Too, the owner of the team, Faith Duffy, had called him that morning and asked him to come. It was hard to say no to the woman who still paid the bills.
For the next half hour, Mark answered questions and even managed to chuckle at a few lame jokes. He waited until the last reporter filed out of the room before he tightened his grasp around his cane and pushed himself to his feet. Savage moved a chair out of his way, and Mark muttered his thanks. He even managed to sound sincere as he put one foot in front of the other and headed across the room. He picked up his usual methodical pace and made it as far as the door before the first twinge settled in his right hip. He hadn’t taken any medication that morning. He hadn’t wanted anything to dull his senses; as a result there was nothing in his system to take the edge off the pain.
His teammates slapped him on the back and told him that it was great to see him. They might have meant it. He didn’t care. He had to get out of there before he stumbled. Or worse, fell on his ass.
“It’s good to see you.” Forward Daniel Holstrom caught up with him in the hall.
His thigh started to cramp and sweat broke out on his forehead. “You too.” He’d spent the past six years on the front line with Daniel. He’d initiated Daniel his rookie season. The last thing he wanted was to collapse in front of the Stromster or anyone else.
“Some of us are headed to Floyd’s. Join us.”
“We’ll probably go out tonight. I’ll call you.”
Of course they were going out. They’d won the cup the night before. “I have plans,” he lied. “But I’ll meet up with you soon.”
Daniel stopped. “I’m going to hold you to that,” he called after Mark.
Mark nodded and took a deep breath. God, just let him get to the car before his body gave out.
He was beginning to think God was actually listening until a short woman with dark hair caught up with him at the exit.
“Mr. Bressler,” she began, keeping pace with him. “I’m Bo from the PR department.”
His senses might be dulled by the pain, but he knew who she was. The guys on the team called her the Mini Pit Bull, Mini Pit for short, and for good reason.
“I’d like to speak with you. Do you have a few moments?”
“No.” He kept walking. One foot in front of the other. With his bad hand, he reached out for the door. Bo pushed it open for him, and he could have kissed Mini Pit. Instead he mumbled a thanks.
“Human resources is sending a new home care worker to your house. She’s stopping by today.”
What did a home health care worker have to do with PR?
“I think you’ll like this one,” Bo continued as she followed him outside.
A June breeze cooled the sweat on Mark’s brow, but the fresh air did nothing to relieve the pounding in his head and the aches in his body. A black Lincoln waited for him at the curb, and his pace slowed.
“I personally recommended her.”
The driver got out and opened the back passenger door. Mark eased himself inside and clenched his jaw against the pain knotting his leg.
“If you could give her a chance, I’d appreciate it,” Bo called out as the driver shut the door and returned to the front of the car.
Mark reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a bottle of painkillers. He popped the top, dumped six into his mouth, and chewed. Like a shot of Jose Cuervo, Vicodin straight up was an acquired taste.
Bo yelled something as the car pulled away from the curb and headed for the 520. He didn’t know why human resources kept sending home health care workers to his door. He knew it had something to do with the organization’s aftercare program, but Mark didn’t need anyone to take care of him. He hated being dependent on anyone. Hell, he hated being dependent on the car service that hauled him around.
He leaned his head back and took a steady breath. He’d fired the first three health care workers within moments of their arrival. He’d told them to get the hell out of his house and had slammed the door on their behinds. After that, the Chinooks’ organization had let him know that the nurses worked for them. They paid the nurses’ salaries as well as his medical expenses not covered by insurance. Which were enormous. In short, he couldn’t fire anyone. But of course that didn’t mean that he couldn’t help them to quit. The last two health care workers the organization had sent over had stayed less than an hour. He bet he could get this next one out of his house in half that time.
His eyes drifted closed and he dozed the twenty minutes to Medina. In his dream, images flashed across his weary mind. Images of him playing hockey, the cool air hitting his cheeks and whipping the ends of his jersey. He could smell the ice. Taste the adrenaline on his tongue; he was once again the man he’d been before the accident. Whole.
The Lincoln smoothly merging into the exit lane roused him, and, as always, he woke in pain and disappointment. His eyes opened and he gazed out the window at tree-lined streets that reeked of money and pretension. He was almost home. Home to an empty house and a life he didn’t recognize, and hated.
Teams of landscapers mowed and edged immaculate lawns in the small Seattle suburb. Some of the wealthiest people in the world lived in Medina, but wealth alone did not open doors and guarantee entrée into the exclusive community. Much to his former wife’s dismay. Christine had wanted so desperately to belong to the exclusive group of women who lunched at the country club in their St. John and Chanel suits. The older women with their perfect hair, and the younger wives of Microsoft millionaires who reveled and basked in their snobbery. No matter how much of his money Chrissy donated to their causes, they never let her forget that she’d been born to working-class parents from Kent. Even that might have been overlooked if her husband had made his millions from business and finance, but Mark was an athlete. And not an athlete of an acceptable sport like water polo. He played hockey.
He might as well have been a drug dealer, as far as the people in Medina were concerned. Personally, he’d never cared what people thought of him. Still didn’t, but it had driven Chrissy crazy. She’d been so consumed with money and so sure that money could buy her anything, and when it hadn’t bought her the one thing she desperately wanted, she’d blamed him. Sure, there were some things he’d done wrong in his marriage or could have done better, but he wasn’t going to take the blame for not getting invited to neighborhood cocktail parties or for getting snubbed at the county club.
On his fifth wedding anniversary, he’d come home after five days on the road to find his wife gone. She’d taken all her things but had thought enough to leave behind their wedding album, waiting for him on the granite island in the middle of the kitchen. She’d left it open to a picture of the two of them, Chrissy smiling, looking happy and gorgeous in her Vera Wang gown. Him in his Armani tux. The butcher knife stuck through his head in the album had kind of ruined the picture of wedded bliss. At least it had for him.
Call him a romantic.
He still wasn’t sure what she’d been so angry about. It wasn’t as if he’d ever been home enough to really piss her off. She was the one who’d left him because he and his money hadn’t been enough for her. She’d wanted more, and she’d found it down the street with a sugar daddy nearly twice her age. The ink on their divorce papers had barely dried when she’d moved a few streets away, where she was currently living on the lakefront not far from Bill Gates. But even with the pricier address and the acceptable husband, Mark didn’t imagine the girls at the country club were any nicer to her now than they’d ever been. More polite, yes. Nicer, no. Not that he thought Chrissy would mind all that much. As long as they air-kissed her cheek and complimented her designer clothes, she’d be happy.
The divorce had been finalized a year ago, and Mark had put “get the hell out of Medina” on his to-do list. Right after winning the Stanley Cup. Mark was not a multitasker. He liked to do one thing at a time and do it right. Finding a new home was still number two on the list, but these days it took second place after walking ten feet without pain.
The Lincoln pulled into his circular driveway and stopped behind a beat-up CR-V with California plates. The health care worker, Mark presumed. He wrapped his hand around his cane and looked out the window at the woman sitting on his front steps. She wore big sunglasses and a bright orange jacket.
The driver came around to the back of the passenger door and opened it. “Can I help you out, Mr. Bressler?”
“I’m fine.” He rose from the car, and his hip cramped and the muscles burned. “Thanks.” He tipped the driver and turned his attention to the brick sidewalk leading to his porch and the double mahogany doors. His progress was slow and steady, the Vicodin finally kicking in to take the edge off the pain. The girl in the orange jacket stood and watched him approach from behind her big sunglasses. Beneath the orange jacket, she wore a dress of every imaginable color, but the color nightmare didn’t stop with her clothing. The top of her hair was blond, with an unnatural shade of reddish-pink beneath. She looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties and was younger than the other workers had been. Prettier too, despite the hair. The top of her head barely reached his shoulder, and she was kind of skinny.
“Hello, Mr. Bressler,” she said as he moved up the steps past her. She held out her hand. “I’m Chelsea Ross. I’m your new home care worker.”
The woman’s jacket did not improve on closer inspection. It was leather and looked like she’d chewed it herself. He ignored her hand and dug around in his pocket for his keys. “I don’t need a home health care worker.”
“I heard you’re trouble.” She pushed her glasses to the top of her head and laughed. “You aren’t really going to give me a hard time, are you?”
He stuck the key into the lock, then looked over his shoulder into her bright blue eyes. He didn’t know much about women’s fashion, but even he knew that no one should wear that many bright colors together. It was like staring at the sun too long, and he feared getting a blind spot. “Just trying to save you time.”