Vale turns to face me and asks, “Left knee?”
“Yeah,” I say with surprise.
“I looked up your medical chart while you were getting undressed,” she says by way of answer to an unasked curiosity. “Arthroscopic medial meniscus repair two years ago.”
“Yeah. Sometimes it feels a little loose. A good taping is all it needs.”
She nods and steps up in between my legs that dangle over the table. She’s not wearing perfume, but a subtle floral scent hits me…must be her shampoo. I look down at her as her fingers go to the inside of my knee, pushing in firmly.
“Any soreness?” she asks.
“Clicking or popping?”
“Locking?” she inquires as she lifts her face to mine.
Clear, green eyes on a perfectly polite and professional face.
“Nah,” I tell her, suddenly wanting her to step back and away from me. “Just feels a little loose.”
“Okay,” she says, laying a soft pat on my thigh. It’s nothing but a move of reassurance, but I feel it all the way through to my gut.
What the fuck?
Vale grabs her supplies and gets to work taping my knee. I watch her with narrowed eyes, wondering how she got to be here. How did she go from supremely fun party girl with absolutely no aspirations all the way to the athletic training department of the Cold Fury…my new team?
Why in the hell have our lives collided again?
“So how are you?” I find myself asking without the foggiest clue why. I mean, do I really care?
Apparently, I do, because when she doesn’t answer right away, I almost bring my fingers under her chin to make her lift those eyes to me. But she clears her throat and says, “Fine. Happy to be here and all that.”
She starts an elastic bandage, holding it deftly to the inside of my knee with the thumb of one hand and starts a practiced, tight wrap. I wait for more but she stays silent.
So I prod. Because…well, fuck if I know why.
“What made you decide to go into athletic training?” I ask.
She gives a nonchalant shrug. “Just thought I’d follow in my dad’s footsteps, you know?”
I don’t buy her blasé tone for a minute. “You never wanted to do that before.”
Vale finally lifts her face and looks at me intently. “Well, things change, don’t they?”
“Yeah, sure they do. But why?”
Why the new career path? Why did you dump me all those years ago? Why did you refuse to tell me why?
Why, why, why?
She finishes the wrap, holding the end while taping it with the precut pieces. “There you go,” she says, stepping back.
Clearly, she’s not in a sharing mood, and while I need to get back on the ice, I still press her in a roundabout way. “How’s your dad?”
She wasn’t expecting that question, and for some reason, I can see it clearly on her face, she doesn’t want to answer me. But then just as quickly, she schools her features to bland perfection and even gives me a tiny smile. “He’s good. I’ll tell him you asked.”
“Bet he’s still running the training room with an iron first,” I muse, thinking of the paces that hard-ass used to put me through when I played for the Oilers.
Vale doesn’t respond, instead turning to pick up the scraps of tape and empty wrappers. Something about her stubborn silence piques me.
“Well?” I push at her as I hop off the table. My towel falls to the floor but I ignore it, instead reaching down to pick up my shin pads. My knee feels good. Damn good, actually.
She clears her throat, back still to me, and says quietly, “He retired actually. At the end of this past season.”
My head snaps up and I narrow my eyes at her. By a quick calculation of his current age—fifty-four if memory serves—there’s no way he’d be retiring. Dave Campbell is a man so in love with his job and career you’d expect he’d die out on the ice.
“Why did he retire so early?” I ask.
A brief look of panic flits over her face, so fast I almost doubt I see it. But it’s gone, replaced by that cool aloofness. “Just got tired of the grind of it all.”
Our eyes lock, and it’s a staring war. She swallows hard but then tacks on, “And don’t you have to get out on the ice?”
I totally need to get back out there. This is training camp. Where decisions are made who makes the team and what line you start on. I can’t afford to be wasting it back here trying to push at a woman to open up to me when I really absolutely don’t give a fuck if she opens up to me or not. In fact, it’s better for me all around if she doesn’t.
I tip my head at her in acknowledgment. “Thanks for the tape-up.”
Relief floods her face and it’s clear she’s glad I’m letting it go. Which really makes me want to push it further.
But she turns her back on me, grabs her laptop, and heads toward Goose’s office. I watch her retreat from me, totally conflicted. I’m curious about Dave and why a workhorse like him would give up his career. A conversation about Dave would hold us together here…keep us communicating. A luxury she denied me seven years ago.
Granted, it’s been a stilted, practically one-sided conversation, but it’s still conversation with a woman who holds so many answers that I used to want answered. Is it possible I still want to know what made her do what she did to me all those years ago? Even as I tell myself I’m past that shit and it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference?