Blame it on the Eggnog

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Under the Radar


I’d flown under the radar for almost a year.

No one knew my background in this town, and I liked it that way. I wasn’t interested in dating or making close friends. I didn’t have time for much else but being the single father to five kids. I was also gun-shy and jaded when it came to love.

Been there, been destroyed by that.

“Dad.” Desmond, my fourteen-year-old, tugged on my arm. I looked up from the paper I was reading. Dez gave me the side-eye, and I knew what he was thinking. No one reads physical newspapers anymore, but I was old school, and I liked my newspaper.

“What’s up, buddy? How was practice?” I studied my son. His eyes were troubled, and my protective instincts kicked in.

“Coach quit.”

I sat up, paying attention now. “Why?” From everything I’d seen, their coach sucked, so this was a good thing.

“I don’t know. Problems with parents or something.” Dez studied me for a long time with the same intensity I was known for. I still found it weird seeing myself in my kids.

“Well”—I shrugged—“he wasn’t very good.”

“I know. You’ve been saying that for a year. Why didn’t you do something about it?”

“You know I don’t interfere with my kids’ coaches.” All of my children were competitive, and I wholeheartedly supported whatever they chose to do whether it was hockey, cheerleading, or fingerpainting.

“We’re without a coach two weeks into the season,” he whined with a typical teenage talent for making everything a big drama, though he was no match for his sixteen-year-old sister in that department.

“You have an assistant,” I pointed out warily. My suspicions began to mount, and I bolstered my resolve, as I knew where the conversation was heading. When it came to my kids, I went out of my way to make their lives as smooth as possible. After what’d happened over a year ago, it was the least I could do.

“Coach Collier is awful.” Dez stared me in the eyes, and I had to admire his directness. I’d like to think he got that from me. “Dad, we need you.”

I was a sucker for those three words, but I dug in.

“Dez, you know I’d rather keep a low profile and keep it quiet that I’m a former pro player.”

My son’s disappointed frown almost broke my heart, but I steeled myself against it. Living as normal people was for the best. I didn’t want my kids treated differently because their dad had spent sixteen years in the NHL or whispering behind their backs about the scandal involving their mother’s arrest and conviction, which had made national news in the US and Canada.

“But Dad…”

I shook my head and buried my face in my paper, hoping he’d drop it. With an exasperated sigh, he stomped up the stairs and slammed his door for effect. I felt like a shit, but I was the dad, and I had to do what was best for all my kids.

The house was oddly quiet. My oldest, Teagan, was at cheerleader practice. She was a sixteen-year-old bundle of guy-crazy hormones, and I couldn’t keep track of her latest crush. My eleven-year-old twins, Anna and Alice, were shopping with Eunice, my live-in housekeeper and cook. Amos, my youngest at nine, was exploring the neighborhood with friends, pretending to be superheroes out to save the world.


I looked up at Esme, my weightlifting, black-belt nanny who was somewhere between fifty and eighty. She always called me by my team nickname rather than my given name. Eunice was my cook and housekeeper, along with Esme’s life partner. The couple lived in the large mother-in-law apartment over the garage.

“Yeah.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, knowing a lecture was forthcoming.

“He needs you, Jock. He’s more like you than the other kids. He’s quiet and intense, and he’s having the hardest time adjusting.”

“I don’t want my kids treated like they’re special because of who I am.”

“Have you ever considered they might need an extra boost after all they’ve been through?”

She was referring to my former wife’s unstable personality that led to the kidnapping of my daughter and my ex’s arrest over a year and a half ago. The ensuing media circus had compelled me to retire from hockey and flee from Seattle. I bought a large cedar home in the woods one mile from the BC town of Garland Grove.

Esme was the smart one when it came to handling the kids. I was a rank novice compared to her, and I didn’t know how I’d handle all this without her wise council and support over the last eight years. When Esme spoke, I had to listen. To ignore her would be foolhardy and possibly dangerous—there was that black belt to consider.

“Your kids need some breaks. So what if they get special treatment because of you? I say that’s a good thing, but most of all”—Esme folded her arms over her ample chest—“you need this more than Dez does.”

“I do?” I pointed at myself and shook my head. “I don’t need anything of the sort.”

Esme’s knowing smile irritated the hell out of me, especially when she was almost always right. “You’ve been at a loss ever since you retired from hockey. You’ve wrapped yourself up in the kids and this household until you’re driving us all crazy.”

“I am?” This was the first I’d heard of this.

“You are. Get out. Meet people, preferably a sexy single mother, and stop smothering us. The kids will be fine. It’s you I’m worried about. Bria did a number on you.”

“I don’t want to date. I’m not ready.” I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready to submit myself to that kind of heartbreak again. My battered heart wouldn’t recover a second time, if it ever had the first time.

“Volunteer to coach until they find someone else. That’s a decent compromise.” Esme always got her way, and I knew better than to continue a fruitless argument.


“Tell Dez,” she prodded, pointing to the stairs.

With a long-suffering sigh, which drew a snicker from my evil nanny, I hauled myself to my feet and trudged up the stairs. I knocked on Dez’s closed door.

“Go away.”

I ignored his order and walked in. Dez lay across his bed staring at the ceiling. He didn’t acknowledge me, giving me the cold shoulder.

“How about if I agree to coach until they find someone else?”

Dez leapt to his feet as if shot out of a cannon and barreled into me, wrapping me in a huge hug. The impact of this teenage bullet caused me to stagger backward a few steps before I got my balance.

“Thank you, Dad. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I love you.” He stood back and gazed up at me. After his recent summer growth spurt, he didn’t have that far to gaze. My boy was growing up, and a lump formed in my throat as the realization hit me.

I ruffled his hair even though he hated it. “I love you, too, buddy.”

“Do you want me to fill you in on the team? You haven’t seen us play yet this year.”

I shook my head. “I’d rather watch everyone without any preconceived notions. Okay?”


I grinned at him, and he grinned back. I’d do this for him, despite my misgivings, and make sure the club administrator knew my assistance was only temporary.

“Dad, one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“They’re a tough crowd.”

“The kids or the parents?”

“Both. You might want to wear your Stanley Cup ring so they won’t give you shit.”

I shook my head and laughed, for once not correcting his swearing.

“Dad, can I wear it? Then they’ll ask about it, and I’ll tell them.”

Dez had broached this subject before, and I gave him the same answer I did then. “No, sorry, son, you’re not wearing that ring. I’ll handle your teammates in my own way.”

Dez harrumphed, not liking my answer at all, but he was a good kid, and he’d live with it.

I smiled, but inside I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.