“Yes,” she says, with absolutely no hesitation, but there’s a warble to her voice and a quiver to her lip.
“Will you at least tell me why?”
“No,” she says just as resolutely, but tears fill her eyes. “I don’t want to discuss it with you.”
I have one more question as I feel my entire world start to darken. Depending on how she answers, this decides whether or not I miss my plane. Because if there’s even a chance that I think I can reach her, I’m going to sit on this bed and talk to her until I’m blue in the face.
“Do you still love me?” I ask, practically choking the words out.
I brace as if I’m about to get pounded by the biggest goon in the league. I know that her answer has the power to hurt me worse than I ever have been before on the ice.
She stares at me a moment…a single, silent tear slips down her cheek. Then she lowers her face and says, “No. I don’t love you, Hawke.”
In that one moment my entire world stops spinning. I go deaf, my vision dims, and I swear the breath just evaporates from my lungs. Time stands brutally still, holding me captive in a nightmare. I can do nothing but stare at the girl who in one instant has my heart, and in the next instant makes it disintegrate.
Absolute and utter quiet.
Me staring at her.
Vale staring at her lap.
This moment could go on for an eternity, but then I hear Oliver’s car engine start from out on the street, a subtle reminder I have places to be.
Everything starts moving again.
My heart begins a steady thumping. I can hear Avery emptying the dishwasher in the kitchen, and I can hear Vale’s ragged breathing as she refuses to look at me.
I stand from the bed and look down at her, willing her to look up and tell me she just lied to my face.
But she doesn’t.
So I turn around and walk out of her room, but not without letting her know that this isn’t over. “I’ll call you tonight after I land.”
She doesn’t respond, and somehow I just know. When I call tonight, Vale’s not going to answer the phone.
The vibe in the air is palpably electric. Makes my skin prickle and my blood race.
The first day of training camp…where it all starts for us.
A new season.
Another run at the Cup.
My first day as a member of the defending champion Carolina Cold Fury.
Fuck yeah…I could probably get a hard-on just from the way I’m feeling right now.
I walk to the team meeting room in the basement of the Cold Fury arena. First order of business is to attend this “welcome back” meeting where all the new acquisitions are introduced. Then we’ll have a team picture, followed by individual meetings with the coaches, and end the day with a party at Coach Pretore’s house. I feel like tying one on tonight, and I never deny myself something I want. I understand Coach’s welcome back party is pretty sedate, but I guarantee a few of the guys will be willing to head out after for some real partying. It’s sort of my last night of freedom before the season starts, and I can’t think of a better way to end it than drinks with my new buds and a hot piece of ass to finish the night off.
Nodding at a few players I recognize, either from having played with them before or from having checked them hard into the boards, my eyes catch on Garrett Samuelson as soon as I enter the room. He’s sitting about five rows up from the bottom with the man I know to be my new team captain, Alex Crossman, along with Zack Grantham, the second-line left winger for the Cold Fury. Garrett sees me and waves me over.
We played a year together in Pittsburgh and I was his defenseman on the right side. Good dude and glad to be back playing with him, although I know it’s not a given I’ll be playing on the first line. I mean, I should be, I just know it’s never a given.
Gray Brannon, the general manager of the Cold Fury, used her statistical mojo that has all the tongues wagging in the league and put a hard push to acquire me this year from the Titans. My stats have me as the third-ranked defenseman in the entire league, but Gray says those numbers don’t show the true story. While I didn’t talk to her directly, according to my agent, she says in her opinion I’m really the best. I’m not an overly humble man at the best of times, so I’ll have to just go ahead and agree with her.
I make my way directly up to Garrett, who stands and gives me a bro hug. Introductions aren’t needed, since the last time the Titans played the Cold Fury was just this past February. Afterward, I went out for a few beers with Garrett, Alex, Zack, and the team’s then-goalie, Ryker Evans, as our team plane wasn’t heading out until the next day. All good dudes, and fuck…Alex is the best player in the league right now, so I know how fortunate I am to be here on a defending championship team. The only one missing from the group today is Ryker, and that’s because he decided not to renew his contract with the Cold Fury.
In a move that was very controversial and set all the hockey gossips buzzing, Ryker stepped off his goalie throne as one of the all-time hockey greats and decided to retire the week after he helped bring the Cup to Raleigh, just a few short months ago. In another not quite so controversial move, but one that set female fans all ablaze, Ryker and Gray eloped to Vegas and got married. Thereafter, it was absolutely no surprise when he accepted a position on the goalie coaching staff with the Cold Fury. While it didn’t appear the executive board had a problem with a player being involved with the team’s boss, I’d bet dollars to pesos that Ryker had a problem with it. From what little I know of the man, he has huge respect for Gray and doesn’t want to interfere with her history-making career as the league’s only female general manager.