Welcome to the Snow and Ice Games where competition is not the only thing that is heating up! The third book in bestselling Tamsen Parker's romance series continues with a female hockey star and her off-limits coach.
Bronwyn Perry is the star of the US women’s hockey team, and she and her boyfriend Brody Hill have been hockey royalty since they’ve been in high school. Brody unexpectedly fails to make the men’s team but still comes to Denver to support his girl at the Snow and Ice Games. Or so Bronwyn thinks.
Ash Levenson is the coach of the women’s SIG hockey team. His primary responsibility is to keep his team happy, healthy, and primed to win. Though he’s close in age to his players, he’s been doing this for a while and mostly, it’s easy to keep his eyes on the puck. He’s always been able to discard any crush he might have on any of the women he’s coached…until Bronwyn.
When Bronwyn and Brody’s romance comes to a very public and very ugly end, Ash has to get his star player’s head back in the game and ready to dominate on the rink. Which may mean spending a little time off the ice…
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With all my gear on, I feel like the weight I ought to be. Not the feathery, could-get-blown-away of being without my pads, helmet, skates, and practice uniform. This is a weight I'm meant to carry, and it doesn't feel like a burden. Not until the end of a three-hour practice, anyway. Right now is just the beginning.
I love the smell of the ice. The rink. The way sound bounces in here. The ruckus of my rowdy-ass teammates skating around, waiting for things to start. Some are standing around chatting, their helmets tucked under their arms while they talk. "Gossip" is more like it, because at the Snow and Ice Games village, there's more than enough to go around. Who's banging who is already a popular topic and could go on for hours even though the real debauchery of the SIG snow globe is yet to begin — the Games haven't started yet, let alone finished. Some of them are practicing their victory laps around the rink. Some of them are already working with their sticks and pucks.
Me? I'm waiting to see what kind of music Coach Levenson is going to put on for practice today.
I wouldn't be lying if I said he's the best coach I've ever had, but maybe that's not right. Maybe he's just the best fit for me. My coach back at BC is a great coach, and has a record better than Coach Levenson's at BU to prove it. But what she also has is this way of making me feel like I'm never good enough. Sure Coach Levenson expects us to bust our asses, but when we've done well, he tells us that, too. Sparingly, but that means I believe him when he says it.
It's maybe petty, but I play harder for him than I do for Coach Baker, because I know he'll acknowledge it. Know I'll get that sweet aural honey of praise, and a smile. Best feeling in the world. I like it even better in some ways than the smiles I get from Brody, which is weird because you'd think smiles from your boyfriend would be more rewarding than from your coach.
Brody waves at me from the seats right behind the team bench, where he's hanging out with his friend Eli, and I smile and wave back. He's the kind of guy a lot of my teammates drool over. Cropped short light brown hair, blue eyes, and a body for days, plus we can talk hockey. Basically perfect.
I wish he weren't here.
Not, like, not in Denver at all ... probably. He came to support me, even though he didn't make the men's team, and that was super sweet. It was. What's less sweet is that I feel like he wants me to hand him a goddamn cookie for it every time I see him. I actually have other stuff to do. Like practice, conditioning, watching tape of our competition, and yeah, I'd like to actually have some fun while I'm here. Not to mention the reason we're here: to compete.
All the practices are open, so even though his is not the voice I should be hearing while I'm out on the ice, I can't exactly tell him to go away. Not without looking like a huge bitch, anyway. He's a good hockey player, missed making the men's team by a smidge, but that's just it. He's a good men's hockey player, and sometimes he forgets that we play different games. But still, he tries to help me be better. He does.
I'm about to skate closer to talk to him at a reasonable volume but before I can, the music turns on. From the first few beats, I recognize the song, and I know what kind of workout this is going to be. Which is what makes me swear under my breath. Not quietly enough, apparently, because then Jennie's knocking her shoulder pad against mine. "Why the potty mouth?"
I give her the side-eye, because seriously? "It's the Go-Go's."
Jennie blinks at me.
"We Got the Beat?"
She shrugs and her mouth tugs to the side. "So what?"
So what? Am I the only person on this team who's noticed you can tell how hard of a practice we're in for by the music Coach puts on? His 1982 pop hits playlist means we're totally fucked and will be sweating our asses off by the end of our ice time. It's clearly my imagination, but my gear starts to feel heavier already, like someone's hefted lifting plates onto my shoulders.
I look around the rink to see if I can find Colleen and Ximena — they play for Coach Levenson at BU. Their shoulders have slumped and their heads have dropped back. They know what's coming, and I'm more confident in my assessment. Unfortunately.
So I nudge Jennie with an elbow. "Coach is going to beat the hell out of us. Just you wait."
By the time he's circled us up to talk before getting down to business, the song's switched over to "867-5309/Jenny," and that's my confirmation. We're going to be hitting the showers real hard when this is over.
The extent to which I hate that guy cannot be understated. Overstated? I always get confused, but whatever. Bottom line: I hate that guy. A lot. No matter how badly I'd like to punch him in the face, though, I can't. I could, however, kick him out of practice, but I don't think it's worth upsetting Bronwyn.
She's out on the ice with the rest of her team where they're working their drills, clouds of ice dust coming up from twenty-one pairs of skates as they stop short. I love those clouds. Love the sound skates make as they dig into the ice. Love the smell of ice rinks. Especially in the early morning.
Getting ice time at reasonable hours of the day is supposed to be a mark of being senior, of being a big deal. Yes, not having to set my alarm for 4:30 A.M. is nice, but I wouldn't mind going back to the days when if I wanted to get on the ice, that's when I'd have to do it. When the only other people awake are awake for the same reason you are, it creates a community, a group of people who have a certain level of dedication. Those are my people.
Not like the dickwads who are sitting behind me.
But Brody dipshit Hill keeps Bronwyn Perry happy, and keeping Bronwyn happy is part of my job. She's the bedrock of this team. I'd call her the star, but that would embarrass her. She's not a showy player, but she's just so fucking good she can't help but shine. When she's a hundred percent, she — and therefore the rest of the team — is unstoppable. When she's off her game, though ...
Not thinking about that. She's on, looks great on the ice, sable ponytail swinging over her jersey as she goes through the drills.
I gesture to the assistant coach who's running the drills on the ice to switch it up, and she barks out my orders. While the girls get into the new formation, I pace on top of the bench. From here, I can survey my domain, get a bigger picture of how the girls are doing, individually and as a whole. Girls.
If any of them could hear me call them that, they'd shoot a puck straight for my head. A not insignificant number would have a decent shot of hitting their target. I wouldn't blame them. The thing is, though, I've been doing this for a while and I learned a long time ago not to get involved with my players. Even when we were the same age, that was a bad idea. Now that I'm getting older but they're staying the same age? Even worse.
So in my head, I think of them as girls. Always. When I talk to them in the locker room and during practice and at all other times? Ladies. That distancing tactic, it works. Most of the time. Say, approximately ninety-nine times out of a hundred.
Arms crossed over my chest and pacing up and down the bench, I watch in awe as Bronwyn flies through the pucks that are set up for the stick-handling drill. She's got some damn fine moves and even in this basic drill, any Tom, Dick, or Brody would be able to tell she's the best we've got on the ice. Give me a team full of Bronwyns, and I'd destroy everyone else. Of course, I'd probably also be dead from blue balls. Dude can die from that, right?
Watching the girls, I try to ignore the running commentary coming from behind me. Brody has been sitting here every goddamn practice of every goddamn day since we got to Denver, and his friend Eli, too, when he hasn't got a team obligation of his own. And they have oh-so-much to say — too much if you ask me, considering Eli made the men's team by the skin of his teeth, and Brody not at all.
I'd like to say I felt bad about that, but I don't. It's not like he was deserving and got passed over. The cold, hard truth is that he's not good enough. He and Bronwyn have dated since they were in high school, and through college. Hockey royalty if there is such a thing. I've never quite figured out why, though. Especially when he says the shit he says.
Right on cue: "She's not bad for a girl, right?"
My fingers clutch my clipboard and it takes every ounce of control I have not to grab it with two hands and turn around to smack Brody in the face with it. Bronwyn could skate circles around him until he got dizzy. She's faster than Brody and more elegant on her worst days than he is on his best; she has better technique, and a dedication like I've never seen. Not bad for a girl? You should be so lucky as to be as talented as your girlfriend. Maybe if you were, you'd be wearing a Team USA tracksuit right now, asshat.
Instead of physically assaulting Brody and ending up a first page news story — which is the only way Brody's getting any coverage at the SIGs — I walk to the other end of the bench. Bronwyn's skating to the end of the drill line, and she takes a swipe at her nose through the grill of her helmet.
Though she's unaware of it, that's my cue to call practice, so I step down from the bench, gritting my teeth so I don't wince. Even with the padded floor, it's still unpleasant. I toss my clipboard onto the bench and clap my hands a few times, loudly.
"Nice job today, ladies. Clear the ice and then let's circle up."
The girls do as I've asked, and I retrieve my clipboard from the bench because I've got some notes I don't want to forget to give — Nguyen's still not using her lower body enough on her wrist shots; Harris has got to watch her five-hole; and if Stewart doesn't knock it off, she's going to get called for slashing — and I have to ignore yet more smack talk from the peanut gallery.
Eli's telling Brody, "Dude, I gotta go so I'm not late for practice. We're over at the other arena today."
"Yeah, of course. Have fun with the real hockey players. Check you later, man."
Real hockey players? How about real SIG athletes? I have so much rage in my heart and I have to keep it off my face because I don't want the girls to think I'm pissed at them. Brody is such a frigging douchebag. No, that's an insult to douchebags everywhere.
We might have been here for a week, but as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the SIGs are just starting. It's the day after the opening ceremony, and our first game day. Finally. We've been itching for our chance for days.
Norway is supposed to be an easy win for us. For whatever reason, though, we're falling down on the job. Coach Levenson is frustrated, we're all frustrated. We can't seem to keep the puck out of our end of the rink. Which means Camryn is getting a workout. She's doing great, but it's not fair. She shouldn't have to hold the whole game on her shoulders, stand on her head. Or rather, she shouldn't have to take so many shots to her pads, her stick, and, god, that one to her facemask that made me cringe. Yeah, a puck flying toward your face isn't unheard-of, but it jolts me every time it happens. Probably why I'm out here and she's in front of the net.
Next time Coach swaps me out for Natalie, I sit at the edge of the bench and wrench my helmet off. I need to ... I don't even know. Usually I can get a handle on our opposing team and figure out their weak spots, help my teammates exploit them. But I feel like every time I look up I see a flash of red jersey. How are we supposed to get the puck into their net if we're trying every goddamn second to keep it out of ours?
I take the water bottle on offer and guzzle some because I'm skating like a bat out of hell and I'm sweating like a —
Brody is the only person on earth allowed to call me Winnie. I don't even like it from him — it chafes like a sweater that doesn't quite fit — but he won't stop, so I let it go a long time ago.
I turn around as well as I can with all my gear on, but at least he can tell I'm listening. He leans over farther, hands on top of the half-wall dividing us from the spectators. It drives Brody crazy to be on that side, which he hasn't let me forget, but I'm glad he's at the game anyway. Maybe he's got some words of wisdom, because I could sure as hell use them.
"You've got to stop twenty-three. She's killing you guys. The rest of them are good, but she's the ringleader."
I bristle, because as if I hadn't noticed. Yes, I know she's problem. Not the only one, because a team can't function with one person, but sometimes if you pull just the right block, the whole tower falls down. I'm guessing twenty-three is that block, and so is Brody.
"Yeah I know, but keeping the puck away from her is a full-time job. We're doing our best, but it takes more than one of us to neutralize her, and then the rest of them ... they're like a swarm of bees."
Even as I'm sitting there, I can see her. She's really fast, has sweet-ass stick-handling, and isn't afraid to use her body. I'm good, my teammates are good, but they might just have us outgunned. We brought rifles, and they brought an Uzi.
Brody's voice, urgent and demanding, sounds in my ear again. "You're not listening to me. You have to take her out."
I turn my head so I'm full-on looking at him now. He's got that bloodlust in his eyes, and I know what he wants me to do. "Take her out" is not some sort of code. Brody isn't subtle enough to employ a cipher. He literally wants me to take her out. Bust her. Play the enforcer. Which would be all well and good if I were a dude, but I'm not. That kind of shit is not part of women's hockey. Which some people say makes it boring, but Coach Levenson says it makes us faster, more elegant, more sophisticated. I like his way better.
"Brody, I can't —"
"Look, do you want to win or not? You girls are getting crushed out there because you're pussy-footing around like you invited them to a fucking tea party. Unless you want this to be the end of the line, I suggest you grow a pair and take out the trash."
His sexist ranting pisses me off, but I don't have time to lecture him on feminism. Again.
Fuck. I don't want to lose. I can't stand the idea of coming all this way only to lose in the first round. And I really can't stand the idea of knowing I could've done something about it and didn't. But the idea of taking this girl out ... Maybe it's a weak thought for me to have, but she's really fucking good. Maybe she's earned this. I'm not going to give up — hell, I will keep skating my ass off until the last buzzer sounds — but sometimes you play someone better than you are. It sucks, but it should make you hungry, make you work harder for next time. Not plot how to get rid of the person who's dominating you by any means necessary.
This isn't just about me, though. Now that there's a women's pro league where I can keep up my skills and display them, I'll probably get to play in the SIGs again in another four years barring injury or what-the-fuck-ever happening, but some of my teammates — this is their last hurrah, and I can see them wilting on the bench like they know it's over.
Which leads me to the person at the very end of the bench. Coach Levenson is holding his clipboard to his chest and standing there in his suit. It's funny. Most of the coaches wear their team track suits at the SIGs, but not Coach Levenson. He's wearing a suit like he always does to games. His only concession to conventional SIG style a red, white, and blue–striped tie.
If I do what Brody is telling me to, Coach is going to lose his shit. We don't play dirty, ever. I've seen Coach bench his best players at BU for getting too aggressive even if it meant losing. In fact, he lost to us.
I respect him like crazy for it, but it also makes me want to ditch my gloves and start a fight. I don't want to disrespect Coach, and I don't want to disappoint him, but ... my team. I'd do anything for my teammates because they deserve more than this. Having all the papers saying we had a disappointing showing. Fuck that. And with Brody egging me on — not to mention that if I don't do this and we lose? I'll never hear the end of it from him.
I know what he'd do. He'd board that fucker so hard it'd be a yard sale out there. An even bigger one if their teammates noticed. Depending on how bad the hit was, a fight would be more than likely.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
Excerpted from "On The Edge Of Scandal"
Copyright © 2018 Tamsen Parker.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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