Delayed Penalty

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Chapter 1–Dropping Two Bombshells


My buddy Ziggy had just dropped a bombshell on the entire team and interrupted our boisterous post-game celebration after winning our first preseason game.

We’d been partying like we’d won the cup and then we weren’t. Partying, that is. The room erupted in stunned silence. Truly erupted. I’d never realized silence could be so loud until now.

We’d been rendered speechless, which was hard to do with a group of guys known for their trash-talking on and off the ice. I snuck a glance around the room. Some teammates stared at their drinks as if the secret to the fucking universe was concealed in their beer. A few others gaped openly at Ziggy and Andy. I was one of the gapers. I’d never been much for tact.

Cedric “Smooth” Pedersen, our A captain, shot to his feet. “To brothers! Whether it be on the ice or by blood or both.”

For a brief moment, we didn’t react until our captain, Isaac “Ice” Wolfe, stood and lifted his glass and spurred us into action.

“To brothers!” we shouted loudly like a war cry. The ice had been broken and grins were shared all around.

Ziggy had just revealed that another teammate, Andy Staples, a guy he loathed, was actually his half brother. Such earth-shattering, drama-filled moments weren’t common on our team, for which I was grateful. I was an easygoing party boy who avoided drama and lived in the moment. I hated conflict as much as I hated wearing a suit on game days.

Andy was one of my partying buddies, and I’d never seen this coming, not that we’d shared many—if any—intimate moments in our lives. We’d been more about drinking and chasing women than baring our souls until Andy met the love of his life and became boring as hell.

One thing was certain about life, it never stayed the same and always surprised me.

I adored Andy’s girlfriend, Kennedy. Currently, she was leaning into him and offering support. She was one of the good ones, nothing like—

I squelched that line of thought immediately. I wouldn’t think about she who should not be named. No, I would not. She was ancient history and no longer played a part in my life or my heart. If I could find a good, loyal female like many of my teammates had, maybe they’d convince me to settle down, but until that happened, I was the team’s “Caveman,” and they expected me to behave as such. I gladly obliged them.

I leaned across the table toward Andy, shaking my head in disbelief. “I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. I thought you guys hated each other for some dumb-shit reason no one understood.”

“We did hate each other for some dumb-shit reason even we didn’t understand.” Andy shrugged, his gaze drifting to Kennedy as a slow smile spread across his face. The guy was disgustingly in love. If I’d been told a year ago he would fall so hard and fast, I’d have never believed it, but the evidence was impossible to ignore.

I opened my mouth to offer one of my usual clueless, smart-ass remarks when I glimpsed an image from my past standing near the door. I did a double take and blinked several times, but the ghost remained. I was struck silent for the second time tonight. I shook my head, but that haunting image didn’t disappear. In fact, the ghost coalesced into an in-the-flesh person.

And my greatest nightmare.

The room whirled like being spun in a tornado, and I gripped the table in a futile attempt to steady myself. Nothing calmed the turmoil inside me, a raging storm of emotions I’d denied existed for six long fucking years.

As if everyone sensed my distress, the rumble in the room subsided. One at a time, my teammates turned in slow motion to see what’d alarmed my usually noisy ass. They had no fucking idea how bad this was. I couldn’t imagine anything worse short of a career-ending injury.

Someone had spiked my drink, and I was having hallucinations. There was no other reasonable explanation for the horror of what I was seeing. She had no reason to be here.

Yet, despite all my protestations and denials, she was here.

At the entrance to the bar stood the woman who’d ruined me for every other woman, the cold-hearted bitch who’d broken my heart and then stomped on it with her thousand-dollar custom riding boots, then stood by while one of her precious horses stomped on what was left of my body and soul.

If I didn’t sound bitter enough, well, I was just getting warmed up.

I hadn’t seen her in six years, but she was still beautiful, like an ice sculpture and just as frigid. She wore a navy-blue business suit that reeked of money and class. Not the good kind of class but the pretentious I’m better than you kind. That heavy mane of blonde hair I’d once loved running my fingers through had been tamed into a severe bun-type thing on the back of her head, making her expression more severe than usual.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

What the fuck was she doing here?

I fought back momentary panic, as my brain raced ahead of my body, already plotting damage control. She knew stuff about me. She knew my background. She knew the real me behind the affable caveman. She had the goods to destroy me.

I both feared and despised her for the power she had over me.

Blaire Jacqueline Leighton’s icy blue gaze met mine and a smile spread across her face, one as uninviting as a cobra ready to strike.

My heart rate accelerated, and beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I wiped my face on my shirt sleeve, willing the nightmare to be gone when I looked again.

It wasn’t. In fact, my personal nightmare took one confident step in my direction, then another, and another. Panic rose inside me. I had to do something before I was exposed and my life was in shambles.

Only I didn’t. I froze, unable to move despite knowing I had to confront the demons and secrets of my past in the form of an intimidatingly gorgeous woman.

“Who is that?” Paxton, one of our rookies, asked me the question no one else dared. Every head swiveled back to me, waiting for an answer. I was sick inside, a churning caldron of conflicting emotions. She was still beautiful, and I was still vulnerable to that beauty.

After hesitating for a moment, I blurted out, “My ex-wife.”

Gasps echoed through the room as heads turned toward her then back to me, like spectators at a tennis match.

“Not exactly.” Blaire spoke in a clear voice oozing with confidence and easily heard around the room.

If her appearance hadn’t delivered enough of a blow, those words finished me off. Uncertain what she meant and hoping I was interpreting her incorrectly, I jumped up. My feet tangled in my chair. I managed not to fall on my ass and lurched toward her, finally gaining my footing the last few feet before screeching to a halt six feet from her stunning presence.

Time froze as our eyes met and locked. I saw a flicker of uncertainty and realized she wasn’t as impervious to me as she pretended. You could’ve heard a puck drop in this room and probably the pounding of my heart. A teammate coughed, and the noise spurred me into action.

Without a word, I grabbed her elbow, none too gently, and ushered her from the room, kicking the door shut behind us. She allowed me to lead her away from the prying eyes of my teammates. Stiff with anger, I guided her outside and toward my Hummer. She snorted when she saw my large, tricked-out SUV but wisely kept her mouth shut.

I opened the passenger door for her and swept a few things off the seat. Without one rude remark, she surveyed the mess in my vehicle and climbed inside, giving me a brief view of those lovely long legs of hers, which made me instantly hard. I’d always had a hard-on for her from high school on, and despite the years, nothing had changed. I hurried to the driver’s side and climbed in, slamming the door and encasing us in privacy.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” I blurted out, tact never being my strong suit.

“Charming as always, I see.” She smirked, knowing exactly how to push my buttons. She’d once honed that to an art form. She knew my weaknesses better than anyone, and she’d used that knowledge to her advantage.

“As appealing as I find your company, how about we jump straight to the point of your visit so I can get back to my boys and my beer and drink myself into oblivion so I can forget I ever saw you.”

“Nothing’s changed. It was always hockey with you.” She huffed in her annoyingly superior manner.

“It was always horses with you.” I was being drawn into our usual argument over our disparate obsessions.

She lifted one shoulder in a gesture of indifference. Outside of my family, no one but her had ever been able to get to me like she could, not even the best chirper in the league.

“Why are you here? And what did you mean when you said not exactly?” Repeating her frightening words sent a chill through me.

She sighed and stared out the passenger window but not before I caught a glimpse of uncertainty in her eyes. “I need you to sign something,” she said stiffly.

“Me? What on earth do you need me to sign after all these years?”

“The divorce papers.” She cringed and swallowed hard.

“What? We’re already divorced.”

Turning back to me, she met my gaze with troubled blue eyes. Her impenetrable façade disintegrated. She deflated before my very eyes. All the fight had gone out of her. This was the side of her I’d fallen in love with and sworn to honor, cherish, and protect. Only she hadn’t needed my protection, nor had she needed me.

“That’s what I thought until recently. Come to find out the junior partner in the firm never filed the final paperwork. He was fired for various other reasons and finalizing our divorce fell through the cracks.”

I took a moment to absorb this piece of earth-shattering information. “We’re still married?” I struggled to wrap my head around this second bombshell of the day. Even worse, this particular blast directly affected me.

“I can’t believe one of us hasn’t figured this out before now,” I said.

“No reason to, I guess.”

“How did you find out?”

I expected her to tell me she was getting remarried, a thought that didn’t sit well with me for unfathomable reasons.

She didn’t answer right away, and I sensed an internal battle within her regarding how much she’d reveal to me. Finally, she lifted her gaze to mine, and I hate to say it but that old feeling of raw need was still there. She was an exceptionally attractive woman, and I did like my women.

“My grandfather is in the process of setting up a trust fund for me in order to protect my inheritance.”

“From your dad or mine?” I interrupted. Our fathers were long-time business associates and traveled in the same social circles. The very social circles I’d run away from at eighteen when I chose to go pro instead of going to college, and the same social circles I’d believed Blaire had wanted to escape. Only she hadn’t. Playing the poor wife of a minor league hockey player had lost its luster quickly.

She ignored my question. “His attorneys did their due diligence and discovered we were still married.”

“And he doesn’t want me to get my hands on your money?”

“That’s about the gist of it.”

“Fine, I’ll sign. I don’t need your money. I have plenty of my own.”

She breathed a sigh of relief, as if she’d expected me to pull something underhanded. I was insulted by the insinuation, but I probably shouldn’t be. My own father and brother weren’t known for their integrity. Why would her family consider me to be any different?

“Is that all?” I was being rude, and I didn’t care. The sooner she left, the sooner I’d be back on track to forgetting that painful part of my life ever existed.

“How long do you think this’ll take?” She sucked her lush lower lip into her mouth and chewed on it. A sure sign she was fretting. My gaze went immediately to those lips as images of her going down on me flashed in my mind. Sex had never been an issue with us. In fact, it’d been the only thing that’d held us together as long as we had been.

There was more to this story than she was telling me, but I was better off not knowing the details.

“The divorce?” I shrugged. “What do I look like? A lawyer?”

“Hardly.” She snorted and looked me up and down. I knew what she was seeing, a guy who purposely chose to look the opposite of his upbringing, with my scruffy beard, messy too-long hair, and winkled clothes. “Are you going for the chic homeless look or what?”

“There’s nothing chic about me.”

Laughter bubbled over in spite of her obvious scorn for me. I almost cracked a smile myself.

She sobered quickly and jumped back to the previous subject. “How long does it take to get a divorce in Washington?”

I thought for a moment and recalled a former teammate going through a divorce a few years ago in this state. “I think there’s a ninety-day waiting period.”

“Crap.” She was distressed by this news.

“We’ve been unknowingly married for six years. What difference does a few more months make?”

“Give me your number. I’ll text you, and we’ll get this filed first thing tomorrow morning. My grandfather already has a Seattle attorney lined up to handle the details.”

“We’re flying out in the morning for a road trip and will be gone for a week.”

Her face fell. She didn’t want to be married to me even one more day than was necessary. The feeling was mutual. She lifted her gaze to mine. “I was hoping to get this started quickly. I have to get back to my…” She stopped midsentence and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Horses. Of course.” Bitterness crept into my tone as I recalled all the times she’d demonstrated how little I meant compared to her precious steeds.

“Not my problem.” I gave her my number and she put it in her phone.

“I guess that’s it then,” she said.

“Nice seeing you again, but let’s not make a habit out of it.”

“Not a chance.”

“Do you need a ride somewhere?”

“No, I have transportation, and I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” she shot back a little too angrily for such an innocent question on my part.

“Okay.” I held up my hands in surrender, not interested in starting another argument.

She glared at me, pushed open the Hummer door, and climbed out. A couple water bottles and a coffee cup tumbled out with her. Torn, I watched as she sashayed down the wet sidewalk and turned the corner. Damn, but she had a nice ass and the longest legs.

Part of me wanted to go after her, but I held back. Nothing good would ever come of hooking up with my ex.

I looked toward the bar where my buddies still partied inside. If I went back in, I’d be subjected to tons of questions I didn’t want to answer.

I started the engine and headed for the safety of my condo.