Shot on Goal

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Chapter 1—Iced

Drew Delacorte was having a mid-life crisis—at age twenty-six.

Running away from home wasn’t an option, and denial wasn’t working for him, either. Instead, he opted for a Friday night alone with only his sorry self for company.

Lacing his skates, he ignored the constant beeping of his phone. He’d see nothing but a line of text messages, each one alternating between angry and pathetic. Having reached the limits of his tolerance, he grabbed the phone and turned it off, knowing he wouldn’t be able to escape his tormentor for long but grateful for a respite. He briefly considered throwing the fucking thing in the trash or, better yet, off the Space Needle’s observation lounge.

With a sigh, he walked through the short tunnel from the locker room of the Sockeyes Hockey Athletic Center, fondly known as the SHAC, to the practice rink.

How odd that tonight he’d chosen to do the one thing he’d come to hate.


Fucking ice hockey.

Had he ever liked hockey? Or had he played because his family expected it? Make that required it? In his family, skating had been mandatory. He’d been on skates before he could walk.

Drew’s head pounded as he contemplated the sad truth of his predicament. He’d been an imposter all these years. Riding on his raw talent to get him through because his drive and ambition couldn’t and wouldn’t. He was a man locked in a career he wasn’t sure he’d ever wanted.

Perhaps he’d come here tonight in a desperate act to get his mojo back. To skate for the joy of skating and nothing else. No expectations. No screaming crowd. No disapproving ghosts from his past. No judgmental father. His last reason was a deal breaker, and perhaps the root of his problems, but he didn’t want to dig that deep.

He was a fucking professional hockey player, paid big bucks to smack a puck around and get slammed against the boards. He was the son of one the biggest hockey legends ever, a man who still held scoring records and expected his son to be as perfect as he remembered himself to be.

Drew was at a crossroads, no longer able to fake love for a sport he resented at best, despised at the worst. He hadn’t picked this career. He’d taken the easy way out and let everyone else in his life make decisions for him.

Now things weren’t so easy, not that they’d been easy since Dave died, and his life spiraled from bad to worse.

Here he was, one of the go-to scorers on a team that’d just secured a playoff spot and was shooting for the Cup. He should be living the dream. Partying like a rock star. Enjoying the good times. His fucking life should be a beer commercial with women hanging on him and everything being fun times and laughter.

Shit. When was the last time he’d had fun or laughed with meaning?

He had to stop this pity party and get his head on straight. His team depended on him. They had nothing to do with his current emotional state. Just three more months of playing balls-out then he’d reevaluate. Figure out his next steps. All that crap. Today was not the day for introspection and changes of direction.

Drew pushed past the doorway onto the ice. Only the middle bank of lights was on, and he liked it that way. He frowned as he spotted a lone figure at the far end of ice bent down and tightening laces. Not black hockey skates but white figure skates.

Well, double damn.

He had company. In a deserted rink at eleven o’clock on a Friday night. This unknown female obviously had as much of a life as he did.

No one was supposed to be in here. This was the team’s night off, and he’d cleared this with the rink manager to make sure he’d be alone. She hadn’t gotten the memo. Of all nights.

Drew stepped onto the ice, prickly as a grizzly and ready to do battle. This was his private time. Not hers, and he didn’t appreciate the company. Annoyed as hell, he skated rigidly toward her. At the sound of the swish-swish of his blades across the ice, she glanced up, stiffened, and squared her shoulders.

Holy fucking hell, she was beautiful. He’d thought himself immune to gorgeous women, but not this one. Her trim little body was encased in a form-fitting navy-blue sports suit, probably one designed for figure skating, if he had to guess. Her almost-black hair was in a ponytail and fell down her back in mouth-watering waves. And her face. Her skin was flawless and ivory white, like those porcelain dolls his grandmother collected but without the creepy aspect. She had an incredible face, sheer perfection. He was instantly smitten, which annoyed the hell out of him. He’d been burned big-time by beautiful women before. He wasn’t interested in repeating painful history.

Yet, she looked familiar. He’d seen her before. Somewhere.

Drew’s gaze met hers and recognition punched him in the gut. He knew her. Not personally, though he’d met her once or twice, but her reputation preceded her. She was an American darling turned villainess. A fallen heroine. A tarnished star. And someone he did not need in his life even for a fraction of a second.

What the fuck was she doing here?

She blinked her long lashes several times over deep brown eyes. Her expression went from surprised to guarded to resigned. In that precise moment she must have recognized him, her shoulders slumped, and she wrapped her arms protectively around herself.

“What are you doing here? This is a private practice facility for team members only.”

“My great-aunt said it would be OK if I skated late at night.”

“Your great-aunt?” His voice dripped with skepticism and disbelief.

“Yes. Mina.”

Drew froze. Mina? Well, damn. The team owner’s geriatric assistant could make the baddest ass of a Sergeant Major pee his pants with one withering glare over the top of her wire-rimmed glasses. No one on the team messed with her. Hell, Ethan, the owner, never messed with her, and Drew wasn’t dumb enough to take her on, either. He’d rather be berated and criticized by his father for an hour than spend one minute under Mina’s scrutiny.

“This is my time. Could you skate at a different time?” he said, already guessing the answer in the stubborn set of her jaw.

“I’ve been skating here all week, and I’ve never seen you here, so seems like it’s my time.

He glared at her. “I was told I’d have the ice to myself.”

“Well, you were told wrong. There’s a lot of ice here. Probably enough to share.”

He wasn’t so sure of that. There’d be no getting his mojo back with a distraction like her. If his father or mother saw him with—

He shuddered at the thought. He could leave, but then he’d appear cowardly. He’d have to man-up and pretend she didn’t exist.

“Fine.” He sounded grouchy and pissy and almost like a spoiled little boy, but he didn’t give a shit. Tonight had been important to him. He’d needed this alone time to clear his head and reach for all he’d lost. Fat chance that was happening now.

“I’m Marina,” she said, watching him closely, her expression inscrutable.

“I know. I’m Drew.”

“I know.” She nodded and met his gaze. Her jaw jutted out defiantly.

Now that they’d established each other’s identities, he gave her a curt nod and skated off with powerful ice-covering strokes. Her eyes bored into his back. Their imagined heat made him twitchy.

Damn it.

He skated to the end of the rink and did slow, lazy circles to warm up, attempting to concentrate on the sound of his blades on the ice. Only his blades weren’t the only ones making sound. He could hear hers, and against his better judgment, he glanced in her direction. She, too, was doing slow, lazy circles. Her hands were clasped behind her back, and she was staring straight ahead. Her petite body was the picture of effortless grace, and she glided across the ice as if it were a part of her.

He couldn’t drag his attention away as she picked up speed with every circle. She was poetry in motion, pure elegance and feminine power. She was also trouble, big trouble, and he didn’t need any more problems than he already had.

With a mighty sigh, he turned back to his own skating.

* * * *

Marina Sanders wasn’t happy about her current situation, but she was no stranger to unhappiness, so she’d power through it. He was here, and nothing was to be done about it until she spoke to Aunt Mina on Monday.

Of course, she knew who he was, and judging by the disgust on his face, he knew who she was, too.


Four years hiding out in Europe, and he had to be one of the first people she ran into.

He was hockey royalty. His father was one of the best players of his time, a Hall of Famer only outshined by Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby. She’d never seen Drew play but heard he had crazy good talent and might even be better than his dear old dad. He had an older brother who’d died. She couldn’t recall the details. It’d been some years ago, but she remembered it, as the incident happened around the time her parents had died.

Even worse, his mother had not only coached Marina’s former US teammate and rival, Stacy Wright, but she’d coached Marina to an Olympic Bronze at eighteen. When Marina had been wooed away by a Russian gold-medalist-turned-coach shortly after, they hadn’t parted on good terms. Cassandra Delacorte had warned Marina she was making a huge mistake by leaving, and in hindsight she’d been correct. Marina was indirectly responsible for Stacy’s loss of a medal in the next Olympics. From what Marina had noticed over the past four years, Cassandra hadn’t had a world-class skater since. Add to that, Stacy had been Drew’s girlfriend.

It was a freakishly small world.

And now she’d run into Drew. She’d only met him in passing a few times before. Cassandra had always kept her personal and professional lives separate. Regardless, he played for the Sockeyes, and Marina had fretted about crossing paths.

Refocusing, she skated faster. She wasn’t here to think about a hockey player, no matter how hot he was—and he was hot. Despite her convictions, her gaze drifted to the other end of the ice. Drew was skating hockey drills. Sprinting, stopping, turning, sprinting again. His powerful thighs and muscled calves flexed and strained from the exertion, drawing her attention, and she licked her lips. Her gaze slid up his body clad in a simple black sweater and worn jeans, to his lean but muscled chest and broad shoulders. He wasn’t what she’d call classically handsome. His nose had been broken too many times. His forehead too high. His eyes too deep set. But he was attractive, and he’d made it clear he held her in as much contempt as the rest of the country still did.

Marina sighed and skated harder. She flew across the ice and invaded Drew’s space. He didn’t own this facility, after all. And because she could do it, she built up speed until she leaped in the air and spun, executing a damn good triple. Her landing was solid, and she grinned. She still had it at twenty-six, even though she hadn’t competed professionally in four years.

She heard slow clapping and spun. Much to her surprise, Drew stood at center ice, clapping his hands. Against her better judgment, she skated up to him.

“Not bad,” he said. She didn’t miss his quick glance down and back up her body.

Shrugging, Marina skated to the boards and around the arena. Drew caught up with her, matching her stride-for-stride easily. She shot him a sideways glance. He shrugged, but she glimpsed a profound sadness in his hazel eyes, and a part of her wanted to reach out to him and make things better.

And why did she want to do this?

“Despite it all, you still love this, don’t you?” he said, concentrating on the smooth surface in front of him.

She blinked. What kind of a weird question was that? “Of course, I love ice skating. Don’t you?”

He glanced her way, and a mask fell across his face making his expression unreadable. “Of course.” His voice was flat and dull.

She had the distinct impression he was lying to her, even mocking her, but she wasn’t sure why. A guy at his level loved skating, didn’t he? How would he ever survive those hard hits and off nights if he didn’t have a passion for the sport?

She’d been devastated when she’d no longer been welcome in skating circles. Every door had closed in her face, and she’d been forced to take the first job offered to her—in Great Britain—training young skaters. She’d loved the job, but after four years, it’d been time to stop running from the past and come home.

“When did you start skating?” he said.

“I don’t remember. I’ve always skated. My mother was an amateur figure skater.”

“So it was expected.”

“Not really. I could’ve said no at any time, but I loved it from the second I laced my first pair of skates. Or, my mom laced them.”

He stared straight ahead, deep in thought. She should skate away, go back to practicing, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She’d always been a sucker for wounded animals, and this guy was wounded, even though he should’ve had the world by the tail. A thin thread of unexplored chemistry tugged her closer.

“Are you mounting a comeback?”

She cringed at the slight sarcasm seeping into his voice and gave it back to him. “I think I have a shot at the next Olympics. What do you think?”

He jerked back as if she’d hit him. He’d gotten her message loud and clear. He knew as well as she did her professional skating career had tanked four years ago when she’d been an arrogant, entitled twenty-two-year-old and destroyed her career in a few short hours.

Digging in the toe of her skate, she sprinted away, but he was beside her in a matter of seconds.

She put on the brakes, spraying ice, and forcing him to make a loop and come back to her. She regarded him suspiciously as he approached, ready to rip him a new one. She’d had enough of his kind. Sure, she’d messed up, but she was older and wiser now. Everyone deserved a second chance, even someone who’d humiliated her country, betrayed those who cared most, and threw away a gold medal in the process.

The contrite expression on Drew’s face caught her off guard. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and kicked at the ice with the toe of one skate. “I’m sorry. That was a dickhead thing to say. I took my bad mood out on you.”

She wasn’t ready to let him off so easily. “What does a guy like you have to be unhappy about? You’ve got the world in the palm of your hand.”

He raised his head and studied her with narrowed eyes. “So did you.”

“Touché,” she conceded. He was right about that.

“But we both know it’s not that simple. The person we are on the surface isn’t who we are underneath. I’m guessing you know all about how deceiving appearances can be.”

“I do.”

He managed a smile but didn’t say anything further.

Marina had to ask the obvious question since he seemed amenable. “Why are you here tonight? I mean, I’m here for obvious reasons. I don’t want the press hounding me or starting ridiculous rumors. But you? Why are you skating alone past ten o’clock on a Friday night?”

“I’m not skating alone. You’re here.” Another smile lifted the corners of his mouth. He had a great smile, even had all his teeth, though she suspected more than a few were implants.

Drew leaned against the boards, and she did the same, keeping a good five feet between them. He was silent for a long time, sucking his lower lip into his mouth and biting on it. God, that was hot. She resisted fanning herself and stared at his shoulder instead, hoping that body part would be less sexy. She was wrong. There wasn’t an un-sexy body part on him.

They were getting a little too cozy for her comfort. “I really need to skate.”

“Are you practicing for anything in particular?”

“For me.” She lifted her chin and met his gaze with defiance she couldn’t hold back, even if he was the wrong target. “These days I skate for me and me alone. For the pure joy of skating.”

His mouth tightened into a thin line, indicating she’d hit a nerve, though she couldn’t imagine why. “Like when we were kids?”

“Yeah, just like that.”

Sadness clouded his expression. “I want to feel that way again.” He’d said the words so quietly she had to lean forward to hear them.

“You don’t feel that way now?”

He shook his head, staring once again at his feet. “Nah, I haven’t for a long time.”

“Competition has a way of doing that. Making us forget our roots, why we started doing this in the first place.”

“Yeah.” He didn’t sound convinced, as if there were more to it than that.

“Come on, I’ll race you once around the ice.” She didn’t wait for his response but sprinted off as hard as she could go, damn certain he’d be on her in a few strides. Drew was the whole package when it came to hockey, and she was built for a different kind of skating, where grace and finesse won out over quickness and athleticism, though both did help.

By the time she reached the first corner, he was beside her. Instead of pulling ahead, he skated next to her until they were in the final stretch run then the showoff flipped around and skated backwards, easily beating her.

She bent down with hands on her knees and caught her breath. He was hardly breathing. When she straightened, he was smirking at her.

“Damn, we should’ve sweetened the pot with a bet. Wanna go for best two out of three?”

“Only if you do jumps and spins.”

His smirk deepened to a frown. “I don’t think so.”

“Well, then, it’s not really fair to only bet on the things you’re good at, instead of the ones I’m good at.”

“I’m not interested in learning how to figure skate.”

“You might like it.” She looked him up and down, tapping a finger on her lips. “You’re athletic enough. We’d have to work on your skating skills.”

“There’s not a damn thing wrong with my skating skills. I’m one of the best skaters in the NHL.”

She quirked a brow. “And humble, too.”

“Well, I am a good skater.”

“You get it done with sheer talent.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing at all.”

He was clearly insulted, and she was thoroughly amused.

“I have a routine I run through. Enough distractions for the night. I need to get to it,” she said.

“I need to do what I came to do, also,” he said tersely.

They spent the next hour avoiding each other and pretending to be in their own worlds. Too bad it was a pretense. Marina caught him looking at her multiple times, and she wasn’t about to admit to how times she glanced at him.

There was something about the man—and not just that he was a royal pain in the ass.