Playmaker (The Scoring Series)

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I drummed my fingers on the table and glanced around the dark hotel bar, as I always did. For the past year, looking over my shoulder had become second nature to me, as natural as breathing.

One moment I’d been doing my dream job in DC, the next I’d been running for my life. Being with Kaden was the only time I truly felt alive and at peace in my fucked-up world.

I checked my burner cell for the tenth time. Kaden, being a bit of a free spirit, was twenty minutes late. Even his time-telling disability didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for all things Kaden. I’d wait forever for that man, assuming, of course, that I had forever to wait.

Kaden Westbrook was the love of my life, but he didn’t know it, and he never would, because my life was shit. I wasn’t allowed to be in love. I was barely allowed to live. To drag him any further into this mess endangered his life, and I wouldn’t be able to draw another breath if his blood was on my hands. He was the one good thing that’d happened to me since I’d fled DC late last summer.

I twisted the paper napkin in my hands and swept my gaze around the bar one more time. No one was paying any attention to me. I slid farther into the corner of the booth and closer to the window in an effort to keep a low profile and watch for Kaden.

A year ago, I’d been living the high life in Washington DC, the daughter of a powerful man, looking forward to taking on his legacy of public service. I would be a voice for the oppressed and downtrodden. I had great aspirations, and I had the tools to achieve my lofty goals. I was young, only twenty-three, with a fresh degree in political science from Harvard, and ready to take on the world.

Yeah, well, dreams didn’t always come true. In my case, mine had become a nightmare.

Tonight was my twenty-fourth birthday. Instead of spending it with family and friends at some posh restaurant, I’d be spending it with Kaden in this nondescript hotel. Not a bad trade-off if the rest of my life wasn’t shit.

My reflection in the window caught my eye. I was once again taken aback by the stranger staring back. My long black hair was now shoulder-length and blonde, my makeup was heavier than I preferred, and my clothes were from the thrift shop on First Avenue. Even so, I worried whether the changes to my appearance were enough. But then, I worried about everything anymore. That once-confident, poised young lady had been reduced to a confused hot mess of a girl.

My cell rang and I grabbed it, expecting an apology from Kaden.

“Where are you?” As I said the words, I noted he was now thirty minutes late.


I balked at the use of my real name. Kaden didn’t know me by any name other than Lanie. The few other people I knew in my new life called me Laina.

“Who is this?” My voice rose slightly. I was immediately defensive and ready to fight or take flight.

“It’s Robert. Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” Robert Klanden was a longtime family friend, my savior, and one of the few people who had this number.

Almost everyone else thought I was dead.

“Robert, what’s up?” My voice faded to a raw whisper. I wasn’t sure why, but I always whispered when speaking to anyone involved in the tragic events of my past.

“Did you see the news?”

“Uh, no, I never watch the news anymore.”

“Then you don’t know?”

“Don’t know what?” I desperately hoped he wasn’t saying what I feared he was saying. I clutched the phone tightly and held my breath.

“He’s out.”

Those two words changed my life—what was left of it. A cold chill swept through me. “He’s out?” I must have misunderstood him. I had to have misunderstood him. I had very few pleasures in life, and if his words were true, I wouldn’t even have those.

“He’s been released from prison.” In typical Robert fashion, he spoke the words with the same calm as if he were discussing the weather. Deep down, he wasn’t that calm. I knew this about him. He was a rock on the outside and a boiling-hot caldron on the inside.

I pushed aside my concerns for Robert and concentrated on what he’d said. He’s out.

Who in their right mind would release a man who’d done what he’d done?

“How? Why?” I struggled to come to terms with what this revelation meant, even as I knew exactly what it meant.

“The judge declared a mistrial because of a technicality, and he was set free a week ago.”

“And you’re just telling me this now?”

An odd silence followed, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

“Sally? Joe? How are they?” I asked.

“They’re both missing.”

“No.” That one word ended on a strangled scream of agony. They were either hiding like me…or worse. Deep down, I knew they were gone for good. Heads turned toward me, observing me with interest. I didn’t have the luxury of drawing attention to myself. Grabbing my purse and dropping a ten on the table, I slid out of the booth and hurried from the bar, still holding the phone to my ear. I stopped in the lobby, slipping into a private alcove.

“You have to run again. They had our contact information. If he made them talk—”

He didn’t have to spell it out for me. I’d been running for a year. I knew what I had to do, only this time I didn’t have the money to make the arrangements, pay for false IDs, change my appearance, disappear again… Those things cost money, and I barely made ends meet with my minimum-wage job. The one I’d need to abandon before collecting my last measly paycheck.

“Lanie? Are you there?”

“Yes.” I forced myself to face reality. “Robert? Are you going to be okay?”

“Don’t worry about me. Save yourself.”

“Do you need anything? How will I reach you?”

Robert didn’t answer. Instead I heard a loud noise, like the crashing of a door being kicked in and a bang. The line went dead.

I stared at the phone in my hands, willing Robert to call me back, but he didn’t. He was gone. He couldn’t help me anymore. I had to help myself and heed his warning.

I ran across the mostly deserted street to the hotel room I’d booked a week ago, threw everything into suitcases, and hauled them out of the building to my Toyota, a far cry from the Beamer I once drove.

After stowing the bags in the trunk, I stomped on the burner phone, destroying it under the heel of my boot, and tossed it in the nearby dumpster.

With a last glance around to make sure no one was lurking in the shadows, I got in my car and punched the door lock button.

As I left the parking lot, I saw Kaden’s car pull into an empty parking spot across the street. He didn’t see me, or he’d have followed. I slowed my car, battling between my head and my heart. I had to leave, and leave now. I could not say goodbye to him. It was better that I disappeared and he forgot about me.

I choked back a sob as I tore down the side street. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I glimpsed his tall, muscular silhouette as he exited his vehicle and walked toward the bar entrance. He’d be calling my dead phone in a few minutes, and he wouldn’t get an answer. He’d never get an answer, and I’d never hear his voice again.

My momentary escape into semi-normalcy had ended tonight. I’d been jarred back to my current reality. I had no one to comfort me, to hold me, to tell me it would all be okay, because it wouldn’t. It would never be okay. This hell I was living would never go away.

Tears streamed down my cheeks, clouding my vision. I viciously swiped at my face, angry with the world and the crappy hand I’d been dealt. I cried for myself, but I also cried for Kaden and the life we’d never gotten a chance to build. I cried for my mother, who loved me with all the fierceness and grace of a woman accustomed to fighting for justice. I cried for my father, who’d never see his Daddy’s girl again. And I cried for Robert, who’d done all he could to keep us safe, but hadn’t been able to do enough.

Stopping at a red light, I blinked through blurred eyes. I adjusted my rearview mirror to watch Kaden. He was wearing a white linen shirt and jeans, shaggy hair falling across his face and past his collar. He opened the door to the hotel and disappeared inside.

When I’d first met him, his appearance had screamed bad boy; he’d been the antithesis of the preppy men I’d dated in college and DC. I’d have never guessed he was a professional hockey player. Of all the stereotypes I’d pigeonholed him into, that wasn’t it. He was a man who played hard, loved hard, and lived life to the fullest. I’d been privileged to experience his brand of living life for seven months.

“Goodbye, Kaden,” I whispered into the dark night as the light turned green. Accelerating down the block, I steered my compact car onto the northbound freeway, having no idea where I was going, only that my heart was breaking.

Kaden and I had the beginnings of something special, but I’d never find out how special. All I had were my memories to keep me warm at night. My life didn’t allow for relationships or friendships. Only fear and constant looking over my shoulder.

Kaden was better off without me, but I’d never forget him and the joy he brought into my dark life.