Read On the Fly (Crimson Romance) Online

Authors: Katie Kenyhercz

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary

On the Fly (Crimson Romance) (4 page)

BOOK: On the Fly (Crimson Romance)
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Nealy’s laugh squawked. “Good luck with that one.”

• • •

“Mad? Did you hear me?”

Madden sat on the edge of his king-size bed, elbows on thighs, hands buried in his reddish blond hair. He stared holes in the thick, shag carpet. “I heard you.”

“And?”

His jaw tightened, and his fingers bunched. “And you’re offering me the position of assistant GM — not even official GM — as long as I’ll be your secretary, too?”

“Personal Assistant. Not secretary. And it’s not like I’ll ask you to get me coffee or run my errands. I need you, Maddie. I can handle the business end of things, but I’m still learning hockey. And player relations. The team thinks I’m a puff bunny.”

Madden’s brows furrowed and then a deep laugh shook his shoulders. “
Puck
bunny. And jeez, what’d you do?”

“Nothing! I didn’t do anything. My first day, Coach Finley quit, and I needed someone to run practices, so I went down to the rink and asked Carter where the assistant coach was.”

“Carter … Phlynn? And I bet you called him Carter in front of the whole team. Now I get it.”

Jacey swatted her brother’s shoulder. He smirked, so she pinched him. “I don’t see what the big deal is. What’s wrong with first names?”

“Nothing. If you’re on the team. Or sleeping with them. Pro sports are about last names and nicknames Jace. And ow.” He rubbed the spot she pinched.

“See? I need you. Pleeease?” Jacey gave him the sad puppy expression she’d used growing up to guilt him.

“If you’re so busy and need so much help, why can’t I be the acting GM?”

Because you gambled away your savings by age twenty-four. Because I don’t trust you with Dad’s team.
Neither of those would be helpful out loud. Instead, she went with a better truth. “Because no one thinks I can do this. I want to prove everyone wrong. I want to prove to myself Dad didn’t make a mistake trusting me with the team. I need you behind me on this, Maddie.”

He appraised her with light blue eyes that mirrored her own. Some people mistook them for twins, but she had him by three years. She could see an inner struggle taking place. He looked down at the plush carpet, the line of his shoulders drooped, and he nodded. “All right. I’ll do it.”

“Really?” Could it be that easy? Madden’s pride almost always got the best of him, but the ego only served to hide his insecurities. Deep down hid a vulnerable kid. Still, he was usually too contrary for his own good, even when it would benefit him to agree.

“On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t ever call me Maddie in public.”

Jacey laughed and ruffled his hair. “You got it, Maddie.” And then she bolted from the room before the consequences could catch her.

• • •

Thursday, September 15th

“So who do you think it’ll be?” Shane Reese leaned back on Carter Phlynn’s microsuede chaise lounge, hands locked behind his head.

“I have no idea, man. She just said she’d have a new coach by the season’s start. Pre-season starts next week. Staff meeting tomorrow will reveal all.” Carter slid a hand back through his hair and took a sip of beer, half watching the baseball game on the plasma TV.

“Peabo was a bastard in training camp.”

“Yeah, but he had to be. You see those rookies? Maybe two will play with us this year.”

“Isn’t that a little harsh? We need fresh legs.”

“We need guys who can play in the NHL. Jacey agrees.”
Damn
.

He’d gotten used to her enough that the boundaries were starting to blur. Every now and then, she showed up at the rink and the track to watch them practice. They’d talk after. He’d summarize everyone’s progress. She’d ask questions. If he was being honest, there might have been flirting. Nothing overt but … it felt like something was there. He hadn’t meant for anyone else to find out. As soon as her name left his lips, Carter knew it had been a mistake. He tried to pretend like he hadn’t said it, stared especially hard at the pitcher on the screen.

“Who?”

“What?” Carter didn’t dare look away from the TV, pretended to be distracted.

“Jacey.”

“What about her?”

“I don’t remember you ever calling her old man ‘Jacky.’ You still on a first-name basis with the boss lady?” Reese leaned forward into Carter’s peripheral vision, clearly fighting a smile.

Carter sighed and spared his best friend a glance. “Nothing’s going on. She just said to call her that.”

“I’ll bet she did. You know you better watch yourself in interviews though, right? A slip like that, and the whole league will talk.”

“I’m not stupid. Can we watch the game now?”

“Sure, man. Whatever.” Reese had a grin in his voice, and Carter gritted his teeth, reminding himself it wouldn’t help the team to have their goalie laid up in the hospital. Tomorrow would be the day of reckoning.

Chapter Five

Friday, September 16th

The Las Vegas Arena looked as much like one of the hotels on the strip as it did a sports building. The façade appeared to be an ornate castle. Tourists might mistake it for Medieval Times if it weren’t for one, glaring difference. A big, neon sign sat at the entrance to the parking lot, waiting to light up and welcome fans to the “Coolest Spot in the Desert.” Jacey just hoped there wouldn’t be a casino on the main concourse. Feeling a stab of concern over that, she took the elevator in the garage and stopped to check. Detailed murals covered the walls, and a few slot machines dotted the long hallway, but no casino.

Reassured, she got back in the elevator and punched in the employee code that allowed her to go to the business level. Déjà vu swept over her as she stepped out and saw staff milling around. They smiled when they saw her, and she returned the greeting then strode into the conference room.

One wall consisted entirely of tinted windows, allowing a complete view of the city. It would be breathtaking at night. Conversations quieted in her wake but didn’t cease entirely.

A chair waited for her at the head of the long oval table, and Madden sat beside it, leaning back, denim-clad legs spread out, hands folded over his stomach. She winced at his interpretation of “business attire” but bit her tongue.
Choose your battles.
She had to look on the bright side; at least this pair of jeans didn’t have holes. He nodded to her. She nodded back and stood behind her chair before lifting her voice above the din. “If you’ll all take a seat, we’ll get started … ”

Carter ducked into the room in a long-sleeved, black Under Armour shirt and Reebok training shorts. His blond hair was in spiky disarray, but he seemed wide awake as he swung into a seat at the far end of the table and drummed his fingers on the armrests. Her heart stopped for a second until it made sense.
Of course he’s in this meeting.
He represented the NHL Players’ Association for the team. It had been a week since she’d seen him at the last training camp practice.

She drew in a deep breath and tried to slow her pulse. Everyone else sat down, and Nealy slid into the chair to her left, tissues balled in her little fists. Seeing her assistant anxious didn’t do anything for the
Am I doing the wrong thing?
mantra on loop in her head.

Jacey lifted her chin, straightened her posture and put on a warm smile. “I’m happy to be at the Las Vegas Arena. A lot of important things need to be addressed, so I’d like to get started. We’ve lost some players over the summer and gained others, and we’ve picked up a few minor league hopefuls through training camp. As you may or may not know, Mike Peabody has been coaching practices since Coach Finley quit after my father’s passing. He’s done a fine job, but the time has come to replace him. There has been a lot of speculation, but I’ve kept things quiet while I worked everything out. I do have a new coach in line, and she’s in this room.”

Brows furrowed, lips pursed, and everyone fell silent with apparent, patronizing kindness as if she’d misspoken but they weren’t going to correct her. She tried not to grit her teeth. “That’s right. She. Nealy Windham knows more about hockey and this team than anyone else. Her father is one of our heroes, one of hockey’s heroes. I know it’s unconventional, but there’s no rule that says an NHL coach has to be a man.”
And I’m pretty sure Nealy could wipe the floor any man that challenged her.

Blank faces met her gaze. All except Carter. His mouth hung open and his eyes widened. “You’re not serious.”

Madden smirked. Jacey stepped on his foot under the table. “I am.”

A flush crawled up Carter’s neck and filled his cheeks, but his jaw was tight, and his hands closed hard over the armrests.

“If you have objections, you can see me afterward, and I will note them, but that is all. Ms. Windham is the new head coach of the Las Vegas Sinners. She is what’s best for this team, and if you listen to her, you’ll see that.” Jacey forced the words out with a semi-even voice, but she
hated
saying that to the man she’d practically begged to stay. Okay, he could be a jerk, but a good guy lurked underneath. She was ninety percent sure.

Disbelief clearly took back its hold as Carter’s number one emotion, and she almost laughed. Her staff needed to know she could stand up for herself and make the tough decisions. But at the moment, their dazed expressions said no one thought she was making the
right
decisions.

“I know it’s a scary, big step, but all trailblazers are in this position. I’m not doing this because I’m a woman or because I’m trying to get on a soapbox. I do believe Ms. Windham is the best for the job. However, I know it will create controversy, and I think that can work for us.” Uncertain looks all around as well as some shaking heads. Jacey stood her ground. “We need publicity, and this will be free and wide advertisement. Everyone will be talking about the Sinners and their female coach. At first, people might come to games to heckle or see us lose. But we won’t. And that will keep them coming back.”

Silence. Doubting contemplation replaced outright rejection. Carter looked less furious, but his gaze was far away and calculating. Anything had to be better than his looking at her like she was an opposing player. “Look, we’re going to get attention for this, but that’s not my goal. Ms. Windham knows hockey. She’ll be a good coach. Eventually, the team will be the focus. I know we all want that.”

Reluctant nods. They might not be with her one hundred percent at the moment, but at least they weren’t hoisting pitchforks and lighting torches. Jacey took a slow, deep breath. In for a penny … “Okay. Now, as you know, my father fired our last general manager, and he’d assumed the duties himself on the interim. Unfortunately, he didn’t hire someone else before he passed. Since taking the reins, I’ve been making those decisions with the help of Ms. Windham and my brother, Madden, as well as with the input of Mr. Phlynn.”

Carter looked up at her then. She couldn’t read the thoughts behind his stoic hazel eyes, but she preferred that at the moment. He probably wouldn’t like the next part. “I’ve decided to keep the title of GM and continue making the team’s most important decisions with my brother’s help, as I’ve named him the new assistant GM. I know it’s bold and also unconventional, but I’ve done a lot of studying over the last few weeks, and I know the current market pretty well. You can see that in the trades and contracts I’ve made. I feel confident that Madden and I can manage this team through its first season and keep our father’s legacy alive.”

Carter pulled his lower lip between his teeth and looked down at his lap. The rest of her staff traded cautious glances but no overt,
you’re-an-idiot
expressions. Progress. Jacey turned to the Mac laptop in front of her and opened her PowerPoint. “Those are the big changes to the organization. Now for marketing. The NHL has never had a team in Nevada, and even after the Sinners’ three years here, there isn’t a ready demographic — we have to create one.”

A balding man leaned forward. He wore a conservative white shirt, and there were neon dice rolling across his black tie. “Hi. Steve Hammond. We’ve seen a specific problem with Las Vegas. Our arena is right off the Strip. We mostly attract tourists who come to root for their own home teams.”

Jacey nodded and clicked to her first slide. “That’s a good point, Steve. That’s exactly why we need to be aggressive with our publicity. We need billboards outside of the city, closer to the suburbs. We need local commercials and player appearances in shopping centers and local rinks plus autograph sessions in sporting goods stores. I’ve scheduled a meet-and-greet for the weekend at the practice rink before our first regular season game. Steve, I’ll need your team to get in touch with the
Las Vegas Sun
and set up a front-page feature on the Sinners. They can talk to whomever they want, myself included. We’ll do radio interviews, and we’ll get on all of the social media sites and offer behind-the-scenes team information and game coupons. We have to create a larger-than-life presence, and that I can do.”

Steve sat back, eyes wide behind the circle frames of his glasses, but he nodded. The rest of the room stared at her. Jacey smiled and picked up steam. “Now, merchandising. I know the NHL takes care of jerseys and all other league-approved items through our website, but we have some say in our giveaways. I’m thinking trading cards but not Upper Deck. I want to make these in-house, and on the back, instead of stats, we’ll have little-known facts about the players. If we want this city to embrace us, we have to let them in. Questions?”

Crickets.

Madden started a slow clap. Nealy picked it up, then Steve, and soon the whole room echoed with applause. Minus one. Carter stared at a wall. Jacey smiled for her staff, but her stomach fell. “All right, then. Thank you for your time. My door is always open.”

She slung her briefcase strap around the crook of her arm, bumped Madden’s shoulder lightly with her fist then headed for her office. She gave Carter a wide berth and held her breath as she skirted his chair. She felt his gaze burning into her back and picked up her pace. Maybe he wouldn’t follow.

No such luck. Just as she dropped her belongings behind the desk, the door to her office swung open, and there he stood like an avenging hockey angel. His mouth was pressed into a firm line, and his hands curled like they wanted to clench. Jacey swallowed but remained standing, unwilling to give him an advantage in their staring contest.

BOOK: On the Fly (Crimson Romance)
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