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Shaking my head, I finish suiting up and decide that it’s probably best I let it go. Who knows, maybe if I’m lucky, I can go injury free all year and won’t have to cross paths with Vale for the rest of the season, and eventually the need for questions to be answered will just fade away like they did before.

And yet, I can’t let go of this opportunity to appease my curiosity.

As I walk through the player parking lot after practice, I see Ryker and Gray standing next to a sporty red convertible BMW. His hands are on her waist and he’s leaning in to give her a kiss. A sweetly intimate moment, yet I’m fixing to bust it up.

I drop my bag to the ground and trot over toward them. When they hear my footsteps, Ryker pulls away and they both turn to look at me. I’m greeted with friendly smiles, so it appears it’s not a big deal that I’m interrupting their kiss.

“Hey, man,” Ryker says as he sticks his hand out. “Good practice today.”

I give him a quick pump and then turn to stick my hand out to Gray. “Miss Brannon.”

She decided to keep her maiden name after marrying Ryker, I suspect an ode to her strong independence as well as reluctance to depart from the branding that makes “Brannon” and “great hockey” synonymous.

She smirks at me even as she shakes my hand. “It’s just Gray.”

“Okay, just Gray,” I say with what I hope is my most charming smile. “I was wondering if you have a second to talk.”

Her eyebrows raise in surprise, because really, what could a player need to talk to the GM about? Contract is signed, sealed, and delivered, and besides, those talks would be through an agent. She slides a quick glance at Ryker, and then looks back at me. “Sure. Is this private?”

“No,” I say quickly, and nod toward Ryker. “Not anything like that.”

She settles her hips back against her car door and tucks her hands into the pockets of her skirt. A skirt I happen to notice fits her form fantastically, and again I have to think Ryker is a lucky fucker. “So what’s up?”

“Well…um, I was curious about Vale Campbell.”

More raised eyebrows, this time from both Gray and Ryker, but they don’t say anything.

“I was talking to her earlier today, and she mentioned her father, Dave, had retired as the trainer for the Oilers, and, well, I was wondering if you knew why.”

Gray narrows her eyes at me slightly and tilts her head to the side. “That’s sort of an odd question.”

I take a deep breath and scrub a hand through my hair, rubbing it hard at the back of my neck as I give her a sheepish smile. “Okay…here’s the deal. Vale and I used to have a thing. Well, not a thing. We were serious. Dated for four years when I was with the Oilers.”

“I see,” Gray says noncommittally.

“She was taping my knee today and mentioned her dad retired, but didn’t say why. And, well, I sort of got the impression…well, not so much an impression as it was I can’t imagine that man retiring early to save my life, and I was curious if you knew why.”

“And she wouldn’t tell you,” Gray surmises.

Wincing internally and with knowledge I’m probably going to hell for this little white lie, I say, “Well…there wasn’t much time to get into it. I was due back out on the ice, and she had to get back to work—”

“I’m sorry,” Gray says as she pushes up off her car, her tone going from casual friendly to general-manager polite, “but that’s probably a private matter that you should take up with Vale. Or Dave, for that matter.”

“So you do know the reason?” I push at her.

“I do, but again…not my place to say,” she hedges.

I let out an exasperated breath, slide my gaze back over to the arena, and try to figure a way to get her to just fucking tell me. With a soft hand to my shoulder, my attention is brought back to Gray.

“Look,” she murmurs. “Why don’t you just talk to Dave yourself?”

Huh? Hadn’t thought of that.

“I don’t have his—” I start to say, but Gray cuts me off.

“Go back into the executive offices. See my secretary, Charlene. She’ll give you his phone number and you can give him a call,” she says with a smile, and then turns back to Ryker. “Ready to go, baby?”

“Yeah,” he says as he leans in to open her car door. As an afterthought, he says, “Hey, man…want to get together sometime this weekend? Me, Garrett, Alex, and Zack. Get a beer or something?”

“Sure,” I say with a grateful smile toward both of them. “And thanks, Gray.”

She nods and then I turn from them, trotting back into the arena.

In just five minutes, I’m calling Dave on his cellphone.

He answers on the second ring.

“Um…hey, Dave…it’s—”

“Hawke Therrien,” he says, and I can hear the smile in his voice. “How the hell are you?”

“I’m good,” I say as I walk back toward the player parking lot. “Saw Vale today…said you’d retired and just thought I’d give you a call to see how you’re doing.”

“Well, that’s mighty nice of you,” he says gruffly. “Been following your career. You’re a fucking star, boy. Always knew you had it in you.”

I can’t help it. The affection in his voice…not just for a boy he trained, but for the boy that became a man that was in love with his daughter at one time. And I feel like shit for letting so many years go by.

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