Authors: Katie Kenyhercz
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
your business, but I did. Kind of.”
“Not your day, huh?” He smiled, and she wanted to be mad. She really did. But the gleam in his hazel eyes took the wind out of her sails.
“Doesn’t seem to be.”
Carter winked at her and hopped back over the boards to the players’ bench, bending to pick up his helmet. “Finley was a good coach but an ass. I’m sure you’ll find better.”
At first, Jacey could only blink at the subtle show of kindness. Then she smiled. “Thanks.”
“Sure.” The way he watched her as he skated away made goose bumps rise along her arms. No … had to be the frigid air of the rink.
Carter grabbed his stick then glided to center ice, macho face back on. “All right, let’s do some drills while we’re waiting for Peabo. We’ll start with ten suicides and go from there. I want to see speed in these, gentleman. Line up.” The guys groaned in response but skated to the line at the goalie’s crease. Lacking a whistle, Carter lifted his voice. “Go!” and they all took off for the first blue line, skidded just in front of it then ran back. Without a second’s pause they took off again, but this time for the centerline and raced back. Jacey watched for a minute then smiled to herself as she headed out of the rink.
Feeling a little better than she had the night before, Jacey punched in her code and took the elevator to the business level of the arena. Nealy sat behind her desk, and Jacey approached with bated breath. Her assistant looked up warily. “How’s the second day going?”
Jacey smoothed her hair and folded her arms to keep warm. “Well, Coach Finley quit last night. I guess the assistant coach has taken over for now, but I’ll try to find a new head coach as soon as possible.”
Nealy’s features smoothed into shock, and she snatched up the phone index.
Jacey frowned and leaned forward. “What are you doing?”
“These are your father’s coaching contacts. I’ll go through the list and see what I can do. Peabody will be okay for now, but we really need a head coach.”
Jacey’s stomach sank. “Wait, we’re still out a general manager too, aren’t we? Someone who does the hiring and firing?” Carter had said something about her father negotiating trades without a GM.
“Right … Ken Leyman had the position, but he and your father didn’t see eye to eye. Until you hire a new one, I’m afraid that responsibility falls to you too.”
A new sort of numb panic seeped through her, and she stared blankly. Nealy snapped her fingers, and Jacey blinked, focusing once more. “Sorry … ”
“I know it’s a lot. But you can do it. You’re your father’s daughter.”
Jacey smiled a little, and Nealy winked then picked up the first card and started dialing.
• • •
Whistling, Carter Phlynn strode off of the elevator, fresh from his shower after practice. He walked through the empty office and stopped at the closed door of his pretty new boss’s office. A few light knocks produced no answer, but the door eased open at his touch, and he found her face down on her desk, head buried in her folded arms. She seemed to be breathing, but he couldn’t be sure if she was sleeping or crying. Not wanting to interrupt either way, he retreated a step and tripped over a leg of the coat rack then fell back against the wall.
Jacey’s head snapped up, tossing loose curls over her shoulders, her blue eyes wide. When recognition seemed to set in, she released a deep breath and rubbed her face. Carter smiled, pleased that she relaxed in his presence. A nice change of pace, though part of him wanted to make her nervous. He straightened and folded his arms across his chest. “Your old man used to live here too.”
She smoothed her hair and fixed her clothes. “I … ” Her eyes darted to her watch, and he could see her surprise that it was after six. “I just closed my eyes for a minute … fifty minutes ago.”
He fell into the chair opposite her, stretching out his lanky frame. She eyed him and wet her lips. He followed the motion and tensed, looking away and clearing his throat with a smile. She blinked at him sleepily. “Can I do something for you?” Several answers came to mind, none of them appropriate. She was his boss. Best to remember that. And sexy wasn’t how he’d currently describe her. Right now, she just looked tired.
“Wanted to know if you found a new coach. Didn’t figure Neals would let Peabo keep the job.”
“How — ”
“Whole team knows Nealy. She’s more of a backseat coach than your father was. He indulged her because her old man is Bad Bob Windham. Led the Rockers to the Cup three times back in the seventies.”
“Oh … ” Jacey sighed and leaned back in her chair. “She called every contact my father had — no takers. We’ll keep trying, but … Peabody will have to continue to coach until I find someone. I’m sure I’ll have a bite by the start of next season.”
Carter nodded, though the idea of suffering through any more practices with Peabo made him want to break something. He stood. “That’s all I wanted to know. I don’t think I mentioned it earlier, but it’s nice meeting you,” he said, extending his hand. They shook, but neither let go. Their joined hands hung in the air, and the connection zipped through him. His lips parted slightly, but he didn’t breathe. They stared at each other for several, silent, heavy beats. He memorized the way her hand felt — small bones, smooth skin, but a strong grip. She looked at him with a mix of curiosity, interest, and hesitancy. He swallowed hard and reluctantly let his hand fall to his side. “Goodnight … Ms. Vaughn.”
She straightened at the title, seeming to snap out of the trance they’d fallen into, but her smile stayed. “See you around.”
He nodded and saw himself out, unable to suppress a smile of his own as he took the elevator down to the parking garage.
Saturday, September 3rd
Jacey rode in silence next to her brother. She kept her gaze on the road, and he stared out the passenger window as they wound through the gated community of Diamond Cove. When she called Madden back to tell him how stupid it was to quit his job, they’d gone another round in the verbal ring. Given his specific skill set — any and all things that involved a wager — he made an excellent stock trader for a reputable company. Holding on to the money he made was the hard part for her brother. She hadn’t spoken to him until she picked him up at the airport a few hours earlier, but Madden was fidgeting, shooting her glances laced with regret. She could feel an apology coming.
“Jace … I’m really sorry. Any spot in the organization will be fine for me. I don’t want to fight.” And there it was.
Some tension eased from her shoulders, and the tightness in her chest loosened its grip. Madden was the only family she had left. She reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. “Me, either. I’m sorry, too. And I promise to find a good fit for you. I’ll need your help.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw his hardened features ease, and a small smile quirked up one side of his mouth. “I was thinking … maybe we shouldn’t sell this place. It’s such a hassle, and then we’d have to find new houses. There’s so much to do, marketing a desert team. I’m sure this place will be big enough for the both of us … ” He trailed off as they pulled into a horseshoe driveway. They eyed the structure, mouths open.
Jacey blinked. “What was Dad thinking?”
“That he owned a multi-million dollar hockey team, and maybe he’d like to be the next Hugh Hefner,” Madden supplied.
get any ideas.” Jacey climbed out of the car, and the boiling Vegas heat assaulted her. The sleek, black asphalt shimmered in waves around her feet, and it only took a minute for beads of sweat to slide down her spine.
Vaughn Manor rose in front of them — a three-story monstrosity of white stucco, gleaming windows, and terracotta tile. Palm trees lined the drive on either side, providing little shade but lots of glam. Neighboring homes were at least fifty yards apart. Some might have been closer, but there was a good chance this house ate them. “Mad, I don’t know if — ”
“Let’s check it out. Come on!” He jumped up the front steps and unlocked the double doors.
Jacey blew out a sigh and stood still for a minute, blinking in the sun, then wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.
“Jace, are you coming?”
She fortified herself with a deep breath then jogged up the front steps. A thousand dollars worth of air conditioning had probably leaked out in the few minutes her brother left the door open. Jacey’s heels clicked on polished white marble as she stepped into the foyer, welcomed by vaulted ceilings and an ornate chandelier that glinted with gold and crystals.
The house opened up in every direction. A cream-colored, leather, sectional sofa and a flat-screen plasma TV taller than she was filled the left. To the right, a grand dining room boasted a polished oak table so long that if people sat at each end, they’d need cell phones to say, “Pass the salt.” The kitchen dead ahead could have shamed the White House. And her brother had disappeared. “Marco!”
Madden jogged down the hallway on the second floor and appeared at the top of the curving staircase that led back to her. “Polo.” He had a big, stupid grin. “How awesome is this?” Jacey opened her mouth, but apparently it was a rhetorical question. “There’s a movie theater up here. And I looked out on the balcony. There’s an Olympic-sized pool in the back with a ten-foot waterfall.”
Jacey felt a little faint as she looked around, shaking her head and trying to imagine living there. “This is so … ”
“Yeah. Mad, I don’t know if I can — ”
“C’mon, Jace. You’re gonna be so busy with the team, you won’t have time to find a new house before the season starts. And it’s not like we’ll get in each other’s hair. We could go days without seeing each other in this place.”
Scary but probably true. And as loath as she was to admit it, he had a point. She couldn’t even think about looking into real estate with everything else she had to do.
Madden must have known he had her on the fence. “This was the last thing Dad touched. He chose everything in here. Can you really just walk away from it?” Low blow. She let him know with her pursed lips and narrowed gaze. He smiled innocently.
“Okay. Okay, we’ll stay here. For a while. Maybe for the season. But I can’t live here long term, Mad. I feel like I’d need a GPS just to find the bathroom. It’s like … Caesar’s Palace on crack.”
“It’ll grow on you; you’ll see.” Twenty-four, but he still had the boyish charm that had talked him out of detention in elementary school.
“Dad used to tell me that after they brought you home from the hospital. Still waiting.”
Jacey smiled at Madden’s back as he disappeared down another corridor on the second floor. Her day felt a little brighter. That was good, because tomorrow she might be making the biggest mistake of her career.
Sunday, September 4th
Jacey’s assistant dropped her utensils on her plate. People at neighboring tables began to stare. Jacey waved her hand back and forth, and finally Nealy blinked and swallowed, though Jacey heard a dry click in her throat. “I think … I think I just heard you ask me to coach.” Her voice squeaked just above a whisper.
“I did.” More than once. The first time, Nealy laughed so hard she spilled her water. The second time, she just laughed louder. Third time proved the charm. When Nealy seemed to realize Jacey wasn’t joking, she slipped into a vegetative state. Jacey shifted uncomfortably as her assistant kept staring. After a few silent beats, she couldn’t take it anymore. “So … what do you say?”
Nealy’s lips parted but nothing came out. She took a long sip of water then tried again, but words seemed to fail her like a car that was having trouble starting. Eventually, she managed,“You’re serious?”
“Yes.” Jacey’s voice had some unintentional edge in it. Couldn’t
trust that she knew what she was doing? First Madden. Then the Las Vegas papers and the most popular hockey magazines printed pieces questioning her ability. She pulled one out of her shoulder bag and set it on the table. Her glossy face smiled up from the cover, and she tapped a finger on the headline. “The hockey world is already shocked that a woman would dare run a team without a husband as co-owner. I’m the only one with that distinction right now. If I’m going to make waves anyway, I might as well aim for a tsunami.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just that … Jacey. There’s never been a female NHL coach. You’re not the first female owner, though, granted, they’ve been few and far between.”
“Is there a law against having a female coach?”
“Not a written one. But it’s a huge responsibility. And a hell of a gamble to take when we’re trying to get this team out of the gutter. We could become the laughingstock of the league.”
“Or we could be the organization known for groundbreaking progress in a male-dominated field. Nealy, I’m not stupid. I’m not naming a woman coach just to make a statement. I’m naming you coach because there’s no one better suited for the job. You know hockey. And you know these players. They know you, and they respect you. Sort of.”
Nealy snorted and leaned back in her chair, her crispy chicken salad momentarily forgotten. The unforgiving Vegas sun filtered in through the tinted glass of the restaurant, and the other patrons went back to ignoring them. “They put up with me because of who my father was and because your father said they had to. You’ve seen them. They barely listen to Peabody, and he’s one of them. They wouldn’t listen to a woman.”
Everything in Jacey wanted to protest, but she knew Nealy had a point. They weren’t bad guys; they just had a Cro-Magnon quality to them. “Well, they can just get over it. The whole league can. I know you’re the best one for the job, Nealy, and not because I can’t find another coach. You can do this. We can do this.”
Nealy fell quiet again, staring out the window. The wheels turned, and slowly, a smile spread across her pixie face. “Damn. All right. I’m in.”
Jacey laughed, and her shoulders went slack. “Great. Now I just have to go home and bribe my brother with the assistant GM position so he’ll agree to be my new personal assistant.”