My father has never been one for pomp, sugar coating, or long segues. He cuts right to the chase. “I know you all have seen the news stories and I hate that it was leaked before I could talk to you. As of today, I have officially stepped down as the acting general manager of the Cold Fury.”
No one utters a word. Not a sound is made. This tells me that indeed, everyone has already heard the news.
“I’m appointing my daughter, Gray Brannon, in my place.”
And there it is . . . a distinct rustling sound as bodies shift in their seats. My father continues on, making firm and clear statements about my qualifications.
Graduated Princeton when I was nineteen.
Got my MBA from Kellogg at twenty-one.
Ph.D. in statistics from Berkeley at twenty-four.
Genius level IQ of 142.
Okay, Dad . . . that’s a little much. Get to the good stuff.
As I half listen to my father talk with pride about my two Olympic medals while playing for the U.S. women’s ice hockey team—one silver, one gold—I let my eyes roam over the group. The two front rows are composed of the coaching, equipment, and training staff. The players sit in clique-type groups based on what lines they play on. This isn’t by design, but I’m betting more because they have a unique bond and camaraderie. They almost have a sixth sense that enables them to read each other while on the ice.
My eyes pass over Ryker Evans, our team’s goalie, and then snap right back to him. He’s not watching my father but rather me, and I find myself unwillingly sucked into those silver-gray eyes. It happens every time I look at him, whether it’s in person or he’s giving an interview on TV, which is again proof that I am indeed a woman.
His lips tip up in acknowledgment of me and his eyes radiate congratulations. He gives me a nod of approval and then slides his gaze to my father, who is now lauding my scouting efforts for the Cold Fury. I’ve been the senior scout for the past two years and have scored some great players for the team.
I don’t immediately move my own gaze on, but rather take an unfettered moment to appreciate Ryker’s bold handsomeness. He’s called the Brick Wall in this league because he’s big. I mean really big for a goalie, but he’s still one of the most agile net minders I’ve ever seen. And still speaking as a woman for just a second, he has the face of a GQ cover model. In fact, I think he’s actually graced their cover twice if memory serves me. Dark hair, liquid silver eyes, and a beard of what looks like no more than three days’ growth that never gets shorter or longer, even during the playoffs. I’m quite sure when he’s ready to retire he could have a second career as a model if he was so inclined.
As it stands, however, I am far more interested in Ryker Evans for his athletic abilities than his face and I consider him to be one of my greatest acquisitions as a scout. I thought that even when our playoff hopes were crushed during Ryker’s first game in a Cold Fury jersey when he failed to stop a penalty shot, securing for us a big fat loss. I thought he was still a fantastic prospect even when the organization’s CFO, Bill Bowman, berated me in a staff meeting for insisting on such a pricey acquisition to the team.
I remember that day with actual fondness. Bill got all red in the face as he ranted at me, and my father just leaned back in his chair at the head of the conference room table and let me take it all on my shoulders. My father never fought my fights once I became an adult and I loved him for it. It meant he respected me.
It didn’t matter that it was wholly unfair to put that loss on Ryker’s shoulders. The fact is, the team—as a whole and with our regular starting goalie, Max Fournier—blew a three-game lead in the playoffs against Atlanta. Ryker came in cold off the bench when Max suffered a season- ending knee injury and was immediately placed in the net to face off against one of the best players in the league for a penalty shot.
And when he missed it, he became the pariah of the Cold Fury team.
At least for a little while.
But right now, it’s kind of hard to be the outcast when you have a .936 save percentage.
Yes, now my boy is back. He’s become a team leader—a man the younger guys look up to. He’s killing it on the ice, and I believe nothing is going to stop him this season. I can see it in his eyes, the tilt of his chin, the set to his shoulders. Ryker Evans, the Brick Fucking Wall, is going to lead this team—my team—straight into the playoffs. He has something to prove and that’s fine by me . . . whatever motivates him best.
“—which means that the only one who has to prove herself to you is Gray. I’m not even asking you to give her a chance because I know she’d never ask that of you either. I’m just telling you to watch and judge her on her own merits.”
My dad steps away from the podium and gives me a wink. He sweeps a hand out, indicating that I now have the floor. I didn’t have any expectations that I was going to be greeted with open arms. I didn’t expect applause, wolf whistles, or even metaphorical banging of hockey sticks to welcome me. In fact, I got more than I ever anticipated just from that quick nod of approval from Ryker Evans.
That’s fine by me.
Just makes this all the easier for me as I step up to the podium and prepare to cement my place in history.
USA Today and New York Times Best-Selling Author, Sawyer Bennett is a snarky southern woman and reformed trial lawyer who decided to finally start putting on paper all of the stories that were floating in her head. Her husband works for a Fortune 100 company which lets him fly all over the world while she stays at home with their daughter and three big, furry dogs who hog the bed. Sawyer would like to report she doesn’t have many weaknesses but can be bribed with a nominal amount of milk chocolate.
Sawyer is the author of several contemporary romances including the popular Off Series, the Legal Affairs Series and the Last Call Series. She will be releasing her third book in the Cold Fury Hockey Series with Random House Loveswept, June 2015.