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I didn’t notice the note at first. I should have given I walked right over it, but in my defense, I was focused on the latest text from my middle sister asking for help with a math assignment. I had ten years on her, my mom on her second marriage, and having kids later than most. I actually have three sisters, all younger, and all really bad at math. Which meant that my weird analytical brain must have come from my dad who passed away when I was very young. He was an accountant, so I guess he’d found a way to love numbers differently to me.
I connected to Abby, and she answered on the first ring, with a breathless, sobbing, pathetic, “I don’t know what to do!”
“Did you check for a common denominator?”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
Okay, I was pretty sure that a tenth-grade pupil had been shown fractions enough in their education to at least know that simple thing. Sometimes I think my sisters have learned uselessness with numbers, waiting for me to help them out. I don’t ever give them the answers, but part of me secretly loves that they have a reason to call me now they were into boyfriends and studying, and everything else I was happy to leave behind.
I explained about denominators, and she wrote notes, and I could imagine her in the room of the large house just outside Boston, staring out over the yard and thinking her life was over because she didn’t get Math.
“Are you coming home soon?” she asked as we began to say our goodbyes.
I considered my workload, extrapolated a possible scenario that filled all the dates I had, and came to a conclusion.
“Soon,” was vague, but left me some leeway. I did have to spend a couple days the next week in Boston with the team. Going home meant seeing family, which I loved, but going home also meant searching questions from them about a possible boyfriend, and what was I doing in the city, and why didn’t I become an accountant or something where I could settle down. They meant well, they loved me, but I was young, and I wanted to be wild and carefree.
I slumped at my desk after we ended the call. Me? Wild? I hadn’t quite achieved a high level of wildness, ever. Boyfriends, yes, wildness, no. The guys I’d dated in college were all like me, studying hard, holding hands in private, far too lost in education to see what else was available.
That was when I saw the note and went to pick it up. In perfectly neat handwriting, from Taz, it simply said.
“The team wants you to come out for a beer. We’re all meeting up at Butterball’s tomorrow night along with the Cayuga Cougars. Be there after the game and you can help us celebrate a win.”
My first thought was that statistically the Cougars, leading the Atlantic division, would be the ones who came away with a win, and probably a very convincing one given their recent track record. They were shoe-ins for the Calder Cup, and so far ahead of us on points that to catch them was unlikely even though it was still early in the season.
Of course, the Cougars might lose out on key players and never win another game all season. Arou-Kalinski might get injured, or McGarrity, or even their goalie, Mitch Adams.
Still not seeing the Rush get much higher whatever happens at the top of the table.
I pulled up everything I had on the Cougars, relevant stats, tutting at some of the heroics they’d managed to pull off despite the odds. Something was working right for them there, I just couldn’t see what unless I dug deeper.
So, all thoughts of Butterball’s, and a drink with the sexy Taz, and possibly even something after, fled from my mind, while I conjured a picture from the numbers in front of me, and headed for the GM and Head Coach with my intel.
I only made it halfway to the offices when I bumped into Goog, the cute earnest skater who I’d tracked for Taz.
“Hey,” he grinned at me.
He was in sweats, a bag over his shoulder, and his grin reached the widest, brightest, cornflower blue eyes.
“Hey,” I smiled back. Even though I could be responsible for his release from the team meant and I should maintain distance. I had to be impartial.
We shot the breeze, talked a little about tonight’s game and then he left, whistling like he didn’t have a care in the world.
Which he didn’t. Not yet. Not after the reprieve I had offered Taz in the analytics I had given him.
I wondered about the story between Goog and Taz. What was it that made Taz so loyal to his friend? Taz himself was a study in contradictions, heat and fire and passion, and then icily cold in his response to what the management team wanted to do with Goog. Clearly, he was very protective of Goog. I liked that in a man.
There I went again. I couldn’t get Taz out of my head. He was there when I was drawing up my analytics, he was there when I was in the shower, he was there when I got busy with my right hand. The scent of him, the taste of him, just… him.
Maybe it was the wrong thing to go tonight because there was something there between us that scared me. Something like a wildness between us that I craved and equally feared.
Reaching the rink side, I peered at the Cougars out on the ice in their blue, white, and gold jerseys, casually skating in circles, using their hour to familiarize themselves with the ice here. The skate was closed, and I didn’t see any Rush skaters lurking so I didn’t have an excuse to stand and watch, making my way to the manager’s office and steeling myself for the news I had to deliver.
On paper, the Rush would lose tonight by a wide margin.
How the hell did I make that sound anything other than the worst news possible?
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