Melting Ice

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Chapter 1—On Ice

Nobody liked Isaac “Ice” Wolfe, least of all his brothers and definitely not his dog. Isaac didn’t care. He didn’t like them either. The women in his life hated him, too, but you don’t get laid based on your personality, so he had no shortage of women in his bed, each one believing she could melt the ice freezing his heart and making him hers. Only Isaac would never be anyone’s anything. He didn’t have it in him to love. That part of him had been irreparably damaged three years ago, if he’d ever truly had that capability.

Sometimes, but not often, while in a rare introspective mood, Isaac wondered why he was such an asshole. Some deviant part of him must enjoy it. Maybe the old misery likes company thing. Maybe because being an asshole ran in his family from his abusive father to his ungrateful, unforgiving dickhead brothers. Theirs was a hate/hate relationship, and Isaac had convinced himself he didn’t give a shit about them like most things in his life—except hockey.

Isaac lived and breathed hockey. Playing hockey was his sole joy, his sole purpose. He’d been skating since he could walk and entered the NHL four years ago at twenty-two. Only his career hadn’t quite gone as planned—maybe it was the partying, the sour attitude, and the fighting with teammates. Figuring that out required introspection, another thing Isaac did not do, being pretty sure he’d hate what he found.

When the GM of his third team in less than a year called him into his office, and Isaac saw his chickenshit coach sitting there, he knew he was about to be shipped off to the next crappy team that would look beyond his attitude because of his work ethic and talent. Each team seemed to think they could bend him to their will and make him a team player. But none of them could. Isaac didn’t bend, and he wasn’t a team player. It was all about him and his stats, and he admitted it. Sure, he wanted to win, and if winning meant that he needed to pass the puck or help out a teammate, he’d do it for the sake of winning, but not for the sake of his team or team or teammates.

A long time ago, so long ago he couldn’t remember his age, he’d been all in for the team. Then he figured out no one really cared about him as a person—not his teammates, not his coaches, and most of all not his father. Dear old Dad was all about Isaac’s stats, and being a good teammate didn’t enter into the old man’s future plans for any of his sons. Besides, good teammates sacrificed for the team, and instead of being rewarded for being good teammates, they were shipped down the road when a younger, cheaper alternative became available. Loyalty didn’t play a part in professional sports. This was business and only business. Isaac no longer bothered getting to know his teammates not did her buy into all the team bullshit the coaches spouted.

What the fuck ever.

He didn’t do interviews, he didn’t do charity events, he didn’t visit hospitals or pretend he cared when he didn’t. He didn’t do anything just for the sake of publicity. If he didn’t feel it, he didn’t do it, and since Isaac rarely felt anything but this empty, aching pain off the ice, he didn’t do any team activity that didn’t involve lacing up his skates.

Yeah, he was fucked up, but who wouldn’t be with his past? As long as he had hockey, he had a purpose. Hockey—his first true love and his only love.

He was a loner; even in the locker room he kept to himself. He just wanted to play hockey. That was all. He gave them everything on the ice and let his play speak for itself. When forced to talk to the press, he uttered surly one-word answers.

Every morning Isaac showed up before daylight, worked out, skated, and watched film until he swore he had every NHL game memorized from the first puck drop. Only this morning, he’d been called off the ice to meet with management. So here he was, feeling a definite déjà vu and forcing himself to remain stoic and unemotional, just like his nickname suggested. Inside he was a hot mess of emotions. This might be the last time he graced the inner sanctum of the league offices of a pro team.

What if there wasn’t another team willing to give him a shot? What if all the talent in the NHL wouldn’t save him this time? Anger and resentment boiled inside him, but he tamped it down, refusing to let them see him bleed.

“Patrick Simons is out for a month,” the GM said, his voice dripping with unspoken accusations.

He’d pulled off the gloves in practice yesterday and gone after the douche for pissing him off—he couldn’t remember the reason why—and left the guy in a writhing heap on the ice with the team trainers huddled around him.

Isaac had a bit of an anger issue. Even though he tried like hell not to let guys get to him, he’d finally cracked under Simons’ constant harassment. The guy deserved it, but by the looks on management’s faces, they didn’t agree.

“Sorry,” Isaac said sullenly, bracing himself for the inevitable.

The men looked at each other while Isaac clenched his hands under the table.

Just say it.

He knew what was coming. He wasn’t an idiot.

Finally the coach met his gaze. “You’re done here.” The jerk smirked, as if he were enjoying this. He’d been trying to get Isaac off the team ever since he’d been hired in the off season.

Isaac could play poker with the best of them. He never, ever let anyone see him sweat, never showed the least bit of emotion; even his anger was ice cold and purposeful. Yet, this time, he struggled to keep his emotions at bay as the white hot knife of fear cut through him straight to his glacial heart.

How many more chances would he get before he lost the one thing left in his life that mattered?

“Where?” he croaked, pissed at his rare display of weakness. “Where am I going?”

Please God, let me be going somewhere.

The GM waited, long enough to see him squirm. “Seattle,” he said, as if he’d just exiled Isaac to some minor league team in the Yukon.

Seattle? Not exactly the Yukon, but pretty damn close. His asshole brother was in Seattle doing a piss-poor job as the Seattle Steelheads quarterback. He hadn’t seen either of his brothers in three years, and he didn’t plan on seeing them anytime soon. He hoped like hell the city was big enough for the two of them.

Of all the hockey teams in the league, why Seattle?

As if he didn’t know that reason already. None of the other teams would take a chance on him. He’d burned every one of those bridges. Only a new team like Seattle would be desperate enough to take on Isaac and his attitude.

This really was his last shot.

“Okay.” Isaac stood. No one shook his hand, no one said good luck, no one said a damn thing.

They were glad to get rid of him, and for the first time in the long time, Isaac swallowed back the bitter taste of regret.

* * * *

On New Year’s Eve, Isaac walked into the headquarters for the Seattle Sockeyes in an old brick building near the Space Needle. He took the stairs up to the executive offices and walked down a long hallway to Ethan Parker’s office, the team’s majority owner.

An old, wrinkled woman manned the desk in front of Parker’s door, looking every bit like a sentry who’d love a reason to shoot now and ask questions later. Isaac had a talent for summing up a person with one look, and he summed her up pretty quickly. Even he knew not to cross that one. The brass name plate on her tidy desk simply said “Mina” as if she didn’t need a last name; her first name appeared to be more than adequate.

“Isaac Wolfe,” he said simply.

She looked him up and down, squinting at him over the rims of her glasses. He swallowed and shifted his weight back on his heels. He almost wished he’d dressed in a suit and tie instead of jeans and a polo, but he’d never been one for convention or propriety. Not one damn bit. The Sockeyes might as well figure that out about him from day one.

Mina sniffed and shuffled some papers on her desk then she picked up the phone, said a few muffled words, and hung it up. “Mr. Wolfe, they’re ready to see you.” She pointed toward the closed door to Ethan Parker’s office. Isaac stood there for a moment, uncertain whether she was giving him permission to enter or not. When she turned back to her computer, effectively dismissing him, he walked to the door and knocked on it.

Hearing a “Come in,” he entered.

Three men and a woman sat in plush leather chairs arranged like a living room near the large windows with a view of Puget Sound and snow-covered mountains in the distance framed by gray, stormy skies to match his mood.

The group stood when he entered. He recognized all of them on sight. When it came to hockey, Isaac did his research.

Ethan Parker, the young billionaire and mastermind, approached him first, a huge grin on his face as if he’d just signed the Great One in his prime. He held out his hand, and Isaac took it. The man had a firm, dry handshake.

“Isaac, welcome to the Sockeyes. I’m Ethan Parker, majority owner and president of the Sockeyes.” He sounded so sincere Isaac almost believed him. Almost.

Isaac nodded, never much for words.

Parker introduced the others—Garret Calhoun the GM, Brad Reynolds the VP, and Lauren Schneider, the assistant director of player personnel. They all seemed genuinely glad he was there. He couldn’t recall getting this type of reception since his rookie year.

Tamping down his tendency to distrust anyone in the front office, Isaac forced a stiff smile and sat down as soon as the rest of them did.

Ethan spoke first. “Isaac, the Sockeyes may only be seven months old, but we’re determined to build an NHL dynasty here in Seattle. Speaking on behalf of the front office and the coaching staff, we’re thrilled to have a defenseman of your caliber on our team.”

“Thank you.” Isaac swallowed back a lump and inwardly kicked his own butt for being such a wuss. Teams didn’t welcome him like this, and their graciousness threw him off his game. Management usually started with the negative, and it went downhill from there.

Ethan smiled as if Isaac’s simple answer was exactly what he’d been expecting. “We don’t care about your past. You have a clean slate here.”

Isaac nodded.

“He’s right. The past stays in the past. We expect you to be the consummate professional and a supportive teammate,” Lauren added.

Professional he could handle, teammate not so much, but he nodded anyway.

“We’re confident you’ll be cooperative, follow the rules, keep your nose out of trouble, and play the best damn hockey you know how to play,” Ethan continued.

“I can do that,” Isaac promised. He had to or he’d be on a one-way trip out of the NHL. Every person in the room including him knew that very fact.

“We want guys who are hungry. Guys who’ll work their butts off to bring the Cup to Seattle. We think you’re one of those guys, Ice.” Ethan’s grin substantiated his sincerity, and Isaac, despite how jaded he’d become over the years, almost believed him.

“The team is currently on a short road trip and will return early Sunday morning. You’ll join them at that time. Until then, we’ll let you get settled,” Ethan added and launched into a fifteen-minute speech on his vision for hockey in Seattle, his eyes lighting up as he spoke with enthusiasm. Isaac forced himself to look interested. The Sockeyes’ management was an idealistic and progressive group who prided themselves on their outside-the-box thinking, which explained their willingness to give him a shot. To Isaac, it was all the same bullshit, but with a different name.

“Any questions?” Ethan asked when he finished.

“I’m good,” Isaac responded. “Uh, except, can you steer me to a place I can rent?”

“Certainly. What are you looking for specifically?” Ethan asked.

“I’d prefer something private, maybe with some acreage, and a place I can have a dog. I’m not much for living in a downtown area.”

Brad Reynolds grinned. “I have just the place. I have a home I bought for an investment on five acres near my family’s horse farm. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s clean and private, an old farmhouse remodeled in the seventies or eighties, and it looks like it. It’s a half hour from the arena when the traffic’s good.”

“I’ll take it.” Isaac forced a smile. It felt weird, and he wondered if it looked as out of place on his face as he suspected it did.

The Sockeyes wanted him. They believed in him. They had high expectations for him.

Despite his inborn cynicism, a small ray of hope cast a sliver of light inside Isaac’s cold, dark heart.

* * * *

Avery Maxwell should’ve collapsed on her worn couch after riding her seventh horse of the day, teaching five lessons, and feeding a barn full of horses so the staff could have the night off. Yet, it was New Year’s Eve, and she couldn’t go to bed yet. Bundling up, she left her cozy apartment above the horse barn and wandered downstairs. She glanced at her phone and tucked it back in her pocket.

It was 11:47 PM, and she was alone. What a way to start the New Year. Not that she hadn’t had invitations. She had. She’d turned down every one of them.

Next year would start in thirteen minutes, and she swore she’d make it her best yet. This would be the year she quit doing what others expected and instead followed her dreams.

She’d dropped out of the U-Dub—what the locals called the University of Washington—last quarter after finally having the guts to stand up to her over-bearing and controlling big sister. With a year-and-a-half left in pre-med, she’d admitted to herself that she hated every second of it. Her three sisters considered her an idiot for throwing everything away to work with horses. She’d always been the smart one in the family, and from their point of view, she’d done a really dumb thing.

Avery didn’t agree; even after butting heads with big sister Izzy, she knew she’d made the right decision, one she should’ve made years ago.

Horses were her first true love. For as long as she could remember, she’d been drawn to the large, graceful animals who gave so much to those they trusted. Her family didn’t understand her obsession with horses, and she didn’t expect them to understand, only to accept her decision. Her twin sister, Emma, and her middle sister, Bella, were okay with it. But only recently had oldest sister Izzy grudgingly accepted Avery’s decision, even though she didn’t necessarily like it.

For the majority of her life, Avery had sacrificed every penny she made for her riding. While other women her age bought clothes and attended concerts and parties, Avery bought new riding breeches, bridles, and saddle pads. She spent obscene amounts of money on clinics taught by Olympic level riders. She didn’t own her own horse because she couldn’t afford a nice horse. She had to be satisfied with riding training horses, knowing they could—and would—be ripped out from underneath her at any moment if their owners decided to move to another trainer or sell the animals. She tried not to get attached, but treating horses as a business never worked well for her. She loved each and every one of “her” horses. It broke her heart every time one of them moved on.

Someday she’d buy the horse of her dreams, and nothing and no one would ever take that horse away from her.

Yeah, and someday Prince Charming would sweep her off her feet and buy her an international-caliber horse. Only a girl would have to date for that to happen, wouldn’t she?

Avery didn’t have a boyfriend. She didn’t have time. Most guys wouldn’t put up with playing second fiddle to a horse, and that’s exactly what they’d be. Horses came first, and everything else took a backseat. That was the way it had to be, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Avery’s cell phone rang, and her sister Bellani’s name crossed the screen. Bella was the family wild child and proud of it. Sometimes Avery envied her, other times not so much. She answered the phone, hearing her sister laughing and shouting to be heard above whatever crowd she was in.

“—just wanted to—a happy New Year.”

“I can barely hear you,” Avery shouted back.


Avery heard muffled shouts and a door slamming shut.

“Sorry about that,” Bella said, no longer needing to shout. “I hope like hell you’re out partying and not spending the New Year with those damn horses.”

“You know me too well.” Avery sighed, not bothering to defend her decisions. It wouldn’t do a bit of good.

Bella snorted. “Even Emma’s out tonight.” Emma, Avery’s twin, was the quiet, good girl of the family. She lived with Avery in the barn apartment, went to college, worked, and sang in a small group that visited nursing homes and senior centers. Rarely did she go out, yet she’d made an exception tonight and gone out with some equally boring girlfriends. Not that Avery should judge. After all, outside of horses she didn’t have a life either.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m enjoying a quiet New Year’s Eve. Where are you?” Avery steered the conversation away from her lack of a social life.

“I’m out with Julio.”

“Julio? Who’s Julio? What happened to Cedric? And Brad?” Years ago Avery had given up keeping track of the steady parade of men in and out of Bella’s life. Bella never allowed herself to be tied down with one man. She always said too many guys, too little time.

“I still see them. They’re just booty calls.”

“They’re all booty calls for you.”

“And I wouldn’t have it any other way. You should try it sometime. Maybe you wouldn’t be so uptight.”

“I’m not uptight.” Even as she said it, Avery caught herself clenching her jaw and tightening her shoulders.

Bella laughed as if Avery’s statement was the funniest thing she’d heard in a long time. Avery didn’t find it so funny. “You’re wound so tight, I’m shocked you don’t explode from the pressure. You need to loosen up. Sleep with some guys. It’s not a big deal. Might even help your riding. Surely those horses know you’re uptight.”

Avery cringed. Her sister had inadvertently hit a nerve. The horses did know she was tense, and her tension negatively affected her ability to get the best out of them. She’d chalked it up to trying too hard.


What if it went deeper than that? What if she was sexually frustrated? Maybe a vibrator wasn’t always the best answer. Even Sam, her boss, had noticed the tension in her body lately and commented on how she needed to relax.

“Hey, you still there?” Bella interrupted Avery’s introspection.


“I have to go. Julio is waiting to get naked. Again.”

“Sure, thanks for calling. See ya.”

“And sis?”

“Yeah?” Avery said.

“Loosen up. Find a hot man and have recreational sex. Trust me on this. Your horses will thank you.”

Avery laughed, but Bella had already hung up the phone. Shaking her head at her outrageous sister, she frowned as she considered Bella’s carelessly delivered, yet perceptively accurate, assessment of Avery’s current mental state.

Avery walked to the doorway of the barn as the Reynolds family set off a small number of fireworks from the deck of their house on the hill. Carson and Samantha “Sam” Reynolds owned the barn where Avery worked. Sam was the head trainer and an aspiring Olympian who’d been long-listed for the team. Carson was a local businessman whose family dated back to 1860s Seattle timber barons. Carson’s brother Brad was the VP of Seattle’s new NHL team, and Avery’s oldest sister, Izzy, was engaged to the team captain, proving it really was a small world.

Avery walked back into the barn. Grabbing a handful of carrots from a nearby bucket, she strolled down the aisle, giving each horse a treat and a pat on the neck. With their heads hanging over the stall doors, the horses nickered at her. All except one horse, and she saved him for last.

“Hey, Riot,” she said softly as she leaned on the barn door. He stood in the back of his stall, head down, and eyes half shut. One ear swiveled in her direction. Other than that, he didn’t move.

Avery sighed and went into the stall. Riot watched her with sad, disinterested eyes. Running a hand across his golden chestnut coat, she put the carrot under his nose. He lipped at it before taking it into his mouth and chewing slowly and deliberately.

Riot came to the barn a month ago as a sale horse from California. His current owner bought him in an IRS auction. Other than that, no one knew much of anything about him. If Riot had been a person, they’d send him to a shrink or put him on anti-depressants, but he was a horse. He couldn’t talk, couldn’t tell them what was wrong, or why he seemed so sad and apathetic. He had all the talent in the world, but he didn’t have any enthusiasm for anything, not even grain or treats. Getting him to eat was like trying to fatten up an anorexic teenager.

Yet, Avery had seen flashes of brilliance from him, seen moments when he showed off his incredible gaits and talent, but such moments were fleeting and rare. She’d made it her personal mission to find a way to make him a happy horse again. If only his current owner would give her enough time to do the job correctly.

Maybe Bella was right. Maybe Avery needed to find a hot one-night stand just for fun to suck the tension out of her so she could better relate to the horses. A tense rider made for a tense, unhappy horse. Until she could relax, her four-legged partners would suffer, especially Riot.

And for Avery, it was all about the horses.