Authors: Katie Kenyhercz
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
“Players get interviewed. The coach gets interviewed. The owner doesn’t get interviewed. I’m new at this, but I know that much.”
“What can I say? You’re special. It’s the first game. And I was sitting right there when you said the media gets full access. Including you.”
“You paid attention.”
“Don’t sound so surprised.” Madden navigated her through the fans fighting their way upstream like excited salmon. It wouldn’t be so bad. What were a few more questions?
Monday, October 10th: Postgame
“What is your response to the allegations that you’re having a relationship with Sinners captain, Carter Phlynn?”
It had been going well until then. The reporters quizzed her on her thoughts of the game, her choice to remain at ice level instead of watching from the owner’s box, and her little victory dance after the last goal. She should have known it wouldn’t last. And yet, that one still blindsided her. The reporters quieted. Moments before, they shoved and talked over each other, all trying to get the next question. Now they appeared happy to wait. “I wasn’t aware there
allegations. But they would be false.”
The same reporter piped up again. “What about the rumors that Phlynn helped coach the team through training camp? Why was he given that opportunity?”
“Mr. Phlynn did not coach during training camp. That was run by our assistant coach, Mike Peabody. Carter may have offered input, but his main role was a player. Finley quit shortly after my father’s passing and right before the move. It got a little hectic. I was grateful for any help.” Quiet murmurs replaced the shouted questions in the sea of gleaming-eyed, flesh hungry press, easing her tension a notch.
Madden, who stood off to the side, gave her a small nod. Why did it feel like she’d just gotten away with a lie? She
dating Carter. He might have headlined her dreams lately, but the press didn’t know that. Still, she forced out a little smile and nodded to a local news affiliate.
“Ms. Vaughn, there was much debate over your choice to name Nealy Windham coach of the Sinners, but tonight they won their first game. What do you have to say to the doubters?” The woman shifted and held her microphone closer.
Jacey smiled, back in her comfort zone. “This isn’t where I get on a feminist soapbox and say that any woman could coach an NHL team as well as any man. That wouldn’t be true. Not all men can coach, and not all women can coach. Nealy Windham can. Hockey is in her blood, and she knows the sport inside and out. She proved her ability tonight, and I have faith that she’ll lead us into a good season.”
From the back, someone yelled, “Locker room’s open!” and the reporters turned heel and stampeded out. In three minutes, the entire room had cleared. Madden sauntered over, arms folded loosely across his chest. “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”
“Not until that question about Carter.”
Madden arched a brow.
. Jeez. Why is it such a big deal?”
“Do you call the rest of the guys by their first names?”
Jacey opened her mouth and took a breath then thought about it. No. No, she didn’t. In fact, she didn’t really talk to the other guys at all. She closed her mouth.
“That’s what I thought. Anything that suggests intimacy between you, those reporters will pick up in a heartbeat. A journalist is a trained observer with the moral code of a shark. They’re bloodthirsty, Jace. You gotta be careful.”
anything going on.”
Madden nodded. She felt grateful for his support until he said, “Yet.” He took her hand and pulled. “Come on. One more interview.”
He navigated through the sea of people, tugging her along at a break-neck pace toward the steps that led to the upper concourse. She tried to keep up in four-inch pumps, but it seemed that they’d chosen the wrong side of the railing. People still flowed down all around them, and they were the only ones going upstream. “Listen, don’t be nervous in this interview. Just be honest and be sure to say exactly what you mean. Don’t leave room for interpretation, and don’t say anything more than you have to.”
Jacey’s stomach sank, and she paused on the top step. People still pushed past them, but she didn’t care. “This isn’t my first time at the rodeo, Mad. What’s different about this one? You make it sound like I’m going in front of a firing squad.”
Madden’s face went stone serious for a moment and then he sighed and tugged her out of traffic. “It’s just been my experience that reporters are the scum of the earth. And … I heard about your little tumble with Phlynn after the ice rink meet and greet. And if I heard about it, maybe other people did too. Just … be careful, okay?”
“How — ”
“Gave the concessions girl my number before I left. I guess she’s tight with the Zamboni guy.”
The world tilted, but Madden steadied her arm, opened the door to the press box, and ushered her inside. The noise from the concourse died away. A few men gathered around the snack table in the far corner, laughing and reviewing plays. A woman in a fitted blazer and black miniskirt zeroed in on her like a sighted laser. Jacey swallowed hard and battled with her fight or flight instinct. This reporter had a predatory smile as she strode over and offered her manicured hand. “Linden East of the
Las Vegas Sun.
You must be Jacquelyn Vaughn.”
Jacey accepted the woman’s hand, trying not to show her instant dislike for the shark with long, platinum hair and bleached teeth. “Pleased to meet you.” Lie number one.
“And you must be Madden.” The reporter turned a brighter smile on Jacey’s brother and held his hand a little longer. Madden flashed the
grin she’d seen work on way more women than it should, and damn if Linden East didn’t sway just a little bit closer to him. But it was hard to tell who was gaming whom. Jacey cleared her throat.
East turned back as if she’d never been pulled into Madden’s tractor beam. “First, I’d like to extend condolences for your father’s passing. He gave the Rockers and the Sinners a lot of good years.” She motioned over to a row of chairs facing the ice.
Jacey hoped her going-to-the-gallows face didn’t show as she took a seat in the middle. The reporter angled a chair to face her, and Jacey made a conscious effort to look relaxed. Madden stood behind and to the side of the shark, arms folded in macho posturing, and she held in a sigh. Did he ever turn it off?
“I hear you had some coaching problems when you started.”
“Yes. Shortly after I took my father’s position as owner of the team, Coach Finley approached me with salary concerns. I couldn’t meet his demands, and he quit.”
“That must have come as quite a hurdle.”
East shifted and crossed one long leg over the other to balance a pad of paper on her lap as she took notes. Jacey tried to catch a glimpse, but the woman kept it slightly tilted out of her vision. Madden probably could have seen, but his gaze was glued to East’s legs.
“And I heard tonight that you named Phlynn coach on the interim — that he coached through training camp. I think that’s a hockey first. What were your reasons behind that?”
“He didn’t actually coach. Mike Peabody took over until Ms. Windham became head coach. Carter simply offered his opinions from time to time. As captain, he knew the team’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else.”
The shark underlined something a few times and scribbled quickly. Jacey swallowed and reflexively sat straighter. She glanced over at Madden, who apparently started paying attention again because he pinched the bridge of his nose. Not good.
The reporter touched the tip of her pen to a full bottom lip, and from the glazed look in Madden’s eyes, Jacey realized — if there had been any doubt — that he would be no help in this interview. East wrote a few more quick notes. Jacey felt like everything she said was being twisted somehow, but she didn’t dare get defensive. That would only make it worse.
“The relationship between owner and players is important. How would you say you’re getting along with the Sinners?”
“We haven’t had many problems. They’re not used to having a woman for a boss, but they’ve all been cooperative, given the circumstances. Phylnn was nice enough to show me the ropes, and I think things are working out.”
Furious scribbling from East, and from the corner, Madden coughed into a fist. When Jacey looked over, her brother’s stare shot daggers of warning. Did they know something she didn’t?
“Rumor had it that Phlynn was looking to trade to the Blackhawks. Why did he decide to stay?”
Over East’s shoulder, Madden drilled holes in Jacey’s forehead. She consciously tried to slow her heart rate just in case the reporter could pick up on that too. “I did hear that he got an offer, but Carter’s reasons are his own. He didn’t share them with me.”
Madden squeezed his eyes closed. East smiled as she wrote, her pen practically burning into the paper before she flipped the pad closed. Then Jacey
she’d said the wrong thing.
“It was a pleasure meeting you, Ms. Vaughn. Thank you for the interview.”
She could only nod. East stood and moved over to some of her cohorts by the pretzel bowl. Jacey strained to hear what they were laughing about, but Madden headed out, and she hurried to catch up. When they were making their way down the now empty steps to the main concourse, she couldn’t take it anymore. “What did I say?”
“Where should I start? You used Phlynn’s first name. Twice. You hinted that he was especially nice to you, which can be construed in more than one way, and you alluded, though not convincingly, that you didn’t know why he turned down the Blackhawks’ better offer.”
Frustration bit down on her last nerve, and she stopped on the last step. “I
know why he decided to stay. Maybe it was just loyalty to the team. Or Reese. They’re like Siamese twins. It’s really not norm — ”
“Jace. Come on. Dad made him the same offer. You know he stayed because you gave him the face.”
“That face that you do that turns grown men into guilty little boys.”
isn’t worth another one point five million dollars.”
“Well I guess to him it is.” He stepped closer, dipped his head, and lowered his voice. “But no one else can know that. I don’t know what you guys have going on — I don’t think you know yet — but you need to be careful. Okay?”
“You really think the interview went that badly?”
“She’s gunning for you. I don’t know why, but when she ended it, I could practically see the yellow feathers sticking out under her whiskers. She’s got something else on you. I have a feeling it might be that meet and greet.”
Anxiety bubbled in her chest and made her queasy. She rubbed her forehead. When Madden spoke again, it was softer. “Jace, if you were a man, you could call Phlynn Sweetheart, invite him to live with you, and it wouldn’t matter. It’s not right, but it’s the way things are. Eventually, you won’t have to prove yourself. Let’s just … hope things aren’t too bad this time and be more careful the next, huh?”
She smiled uneasily, and they walked the rest of the way to the parking garage in silence.
Tuesday, October 11th
Carter tried to unclench his jaw as he walked down the hallway to the locker room with little success. That woman was trouble. He should have known. What the hell did she tell that reporter? If just
of his guys read the morning paper, they’d all know. And they’d never let him forget it. He refused to give in to the urge to go back home and pushed through the doors. Sudden silence engulfed him as the team stared with barely controlled laughter in their eyes.
“Phlynn. We were just talking about how we could use a sauna in here. We thought maybe you could put in a word with the boss.” Reese cracked a smile.
Ben Collier, a right wing, picked up the thread. “Yeah, you know. Slip it into some pillow talk.”
The rest of the guys barked their laughter, and he shook his head, making his way to his locker. “Knock it off. Nothing’s going on.”
“Can’t hide it from us now; you made the paper, buddy.” Reese clomped over, elbowed him, and waved the sports page.
Carter knocked it away and suited up in his practice jersey. “I don’t know what she said to the reporter, but the woman probably twisted it. I’m
sleeping with her.”
The team shot disbelieving snickers and knowing winks his way as they headed to the rink while he finished suiting up. When they’d all gone, Carter squeezed his eyes shut and released a slow breath. He heard a quieter scrape of skate blades on concrete, and his skin went cold.
“You wanna explain this?” The high-pitched challenge preceded a rustle of newspaper.
It would be a long practice.
• • •
Jacey walked into the arena with a heavy feeling in her stomach. The sun gleamed, not even a wisp of clouds dotted the sky, and the Sinners had won their first game. All good things. But she couldn’t stop thinking about the interview. She hadn’t looked at the morning paper, hoping that if she didn’t see it, it wouldn’t exist. No such luck. Madden hadn’t come home the night before, but his face was serious now as he stood behind his desk, and she steeled herself. Before she could say a word, he laid out the sports section of three newspapers. Three similar pictures of her paired with three speculative titles. The worst, by far was in the
Las Vegas Sun
Phlynn and Vaughn getting it on?
She took a deep breath and exhaled an “Oh, no.” She walked into her office and fell into the chair behind her desk, scanning the article before reading aloud. “Is Jacquelyn Vaughn, new owner of the Las Vegas Sinners, using her recently inherited team as a dating service? Quite possible, according to an eyewitness and a personal interview last night … ” She looked up to see Madden standing in the doorway and shook her head.
Jacey felt herself go a little green and forced her gaze back to the paper. “An anonymous source at the Las Vegas Ice Rink says she saw Phlynn and Vaughn playing on the ice after the team’s meet and greet last Saturday. The date ended in an intimate tumble. And in her interview, on more than one account, Ms. Vaughn referred to Sinner’s Captain Carter Phlynn by his first name and mentioned the special treatment he showed her. Knowing Phlynn’s reputation, one can imagine what kind of
that was. It’s no secret Phlynn was offered a higher salary to play for the Chicago Blackhawks. It looks like Ms. Vaughn gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Jacey let the paper fall to her desk and held her face in her hands. “Oh, God.”