Authors: Katie Kenyhercz
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
This edition published by
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
Copyright © 2013 by Katie Kenyhercz
ISBN 10: 1-4405-6551-1
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6551-9
eISBN 10: 1-4405-6552-X
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6552-6
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © 123rf.com
Special thanks to my family, who knew I’d get here and to my friends, who cheered me on along the way. To the wonderful writing community at Seton Hill University from critique partners to mentors, who gave me the last nudge. And to my big bear, my inspiration. I love you all.
Thursday, August 25th
Jacey Vaughn clutched a pile of flattened boxes and glanced around the mirrored interior of the elevator. She looked nervous, even to herself, and she swallowed, trying to wipe her slick palms on the cardboard. It felt like waiting to see the dentist. It was late August, which in Las Vegas meant temperatures in the low 90s. Even though the air conditioning hit her full blast, a bead of sweat slid down the back of her neck. When the doors opened, she took a deep breath and stepped off. Twenty pairs of eyes peered at her around cubicles, and she pasted on a weak smile. The glances followed her as she walked down the corridor to her father’s office.
A petite, pixie-like woman in her late thirties darted around a desk with a ring of keys. What her light brown hair lacked in length, it made up for in wavy volume. She wore a conservative, gray skirt suit and no makeup but big jewelry. The woman smiled and looked her up and down. “You must be Jacey. I’m Nealy Windham, your father’s assistant. Let me get that for you.” She jiggled a key in the lock until the door swung open then motioned to the papers strewn across the desk and offered a half smile. “You can’t tell now, but it cleans up pretty well. My extension is two-forty if you need anything.”
Jacey braced herself, stepped inside, and Nealy saw herself out.
“Change is a good thing,” Jacey whispered as she stared at the Stanley Cup Championship plaques lining the wall. They were from the eighties and the Cleveland Rockers incarnation of the current team but still reflected hockey success. The room smelled like the cedar and musk of her father’s cologne with a faint undertone of cigar smoke, and she closed her eyes. She could almost feel his presence.
Jacey gasped, dropped the boxes, and spun around. A man stood in the doorway, solidly built and towered quite a bit over her five feet eight inches, even though she wore heels. He wore a black Las Vegas Sinners T-shirt, cargo shorts to his knees, and leather flip-flops. His gelled blond spikes were styled to look un-styled, and almond-shaped, hazel eyes took her in with no attempt at subtlety. A small, slashing scar at the outside corner of his left eye as well as some purple-yellow bruising under his right told her who he was. Or at least
he was. Hockey player.
“Easy there, didn’t mean to scare you. I’m looking for Mr. Vaughn.”
Her heart contracted at the statement, and she took a slow breath through her nose. When she spoke, there was ice in her voice. “He passed away a week ago.” Didn’t they know? It was their
The man narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms. “I know. I meant his son, J.C. Vaughn. The new owner of the team.”
She bit back a smile, and her cheeks warmed. “I’m Jacquelyn Vaughn. My father … called me Jacey.”
He looked her over, but his face gave away nothing. “How much do you know about hockey?”
Jacey straightened. “I know enough. And I have an MBA from Yale, so while I probably couldn’t ref a game, I can run the team. You know, I’ve introduced myself, but you have yet to return the courtesy.”
His eyes tightened and an amused smile curled his full lips. “Carter Phlynn, captain of the Sinners.”
Her face went slack then she pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m sorry, I … things happened pretty quickly.” When she looked back to him, his sharp features softened, and his arms eased to his sides.
“I understand. I’m sorry about your father.”
Jacey pressed her lips together and nodded. Carter turned to go. “Wait. You were looking for me. What did you want?”
He turned back slowly and looked at her for a long moment then shook his head. “Nothing. It can wait.”
“No. Please. I could use something to take my mind off of … ”
Carter glanced to a spot on the faded burgundy carpet and furrowed his brows. “My agent was in the middle of renegotiating my contract. Your father was also the acting GM after he fired Leyman. I kind of need to know where things stand. I got an offer from the Chicago Blackhawks. My agent should be here any minute.”
Jacey’s lips parted as that sank in, and it took a minute to find her voice. “You want to leave the Sinners?”
He glanced at her then away again and slid a hand over the back of his neck. “I don’t
to leave the Sinners. I’ve played here for the three seasons they’ve been a team. It’s just … Chicago is offering a better deal.”
• • •
Why the hell did he feel guilty? Carter fully intended to play hardball and get the salary he deserved from the Sinners or walk. He’d expected to get in Vaughn Junior’s face and come out with no regrets either way. The problem was that Vaughn Junior happened to have big, vulnerable, blue eyes, pouty lips, and legs for days in a skirt that showed them off. And despite the fact she probably couldn’t tell a puck from a stick, there was something appealing about her.
She cleared her throat. “If you’ll have a seat, I’ll look through the paperwork while we wait for your agent.”
Carter hesitated, but she moved around the polished oak desk, dropped into a high-backed leather chair — she looked so small — and shuffled through the piles of paper that hadn’t been touched. Carefully side-stepping the boxes she’d dropped upon his arrival, he sat in a chair opposite her and leaned back, folding his hands over his stomach.
Carter took in the way her loosely curled, long, strawberry blonde hair was pulled back on top and bet she’d look hot if she let it down. Then he looked away. Hell of a thought when she was grieving for her father. He focused instead on the walls of the office, first noticing a plaque with a team gathered around the Stanley Cup. The Cleveland Rockers had been successful in the eighties but had faded in the following decades.
Next to the plaque, he spotted an old, family 8x10. Everyone in Rockers jerseys. Vaughn Senior in the middle with Jacey under one arm and a young guy under the other. Had to be her brother because they shared the same blue eyes and light hair. Jacey was smiling and happy, but her brother looked sullen, trying to be tough. Carter’s eyebrows rose, but he shrugged it off and looked over the cluttered desk, noticing a gold puck with the engraving
Strive for your goals.
Vaughn Senior had certainly believed that.
“I see you’ve scored the most goals in the past three seasons. More than that, you’ve had the most assists.” Her light blue eyes flashed at him, serious and ensnaring. “You’re a team player; I can see why you’re captain.”
That sounded familiar. When it had been her old man throwing out the compliments, he brushed it off. But coming from Jacey, it sounded sincere. She ducked her head again and flipped through some more papers. If he had to guess, he’d say they were printouts of the team budget. She was actually going to be fair about this. She pulled her lower lip between her teeth and tapped a short, manicured nail against the numbers. Carter caught himself staring and wiped the smile from his face before she could see.
A knock on the open office door jerked him out the trance, and he refrained from telling his agent to leave. It would be counterproductive. Even if he did want a few more minutes alone with Jacey.
“Sorry I’m late. Previous appointment. Brad Curtis. Nice to meet you, Ms. Vaughn. I’m sorry for your loss.” Brad extended his hand across Jacey’s desk, and they shook.
“Thank you. I was just looking over my father’s printouts and notes. From what I can tell, I’m afraid his offer has to stand. I can afford to give Carter another one point five million a year, no more.”
“If you’d like to take some time — say, a week — and think things over, talk to your advisors, you can get back to me directly. Mr. Phlynn is in demand, and it would take some incentive to stay with a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in its three-year existence.” Brad sat in the chair next to Carter’s and straightened his suit jacket.
Carter wanted to wince but kept a blank face. His agent hadn’t lied about the facts, but it seemed almost cruel to lay it out for her like that.
Jacey nodded once, all business. “I understand, but I know my father. He’d have done anything to make his team the best it could be, and I’m sure that included keeping Carter.” Her gaze darted to him and that damn vulnerability shone in her eyes. “If he said one point five million was the best he could do, he meant it. I know you’re important to this team, and I’d hate to lose you. Will you stay?”
That question had never gotten an emotional response from him before. Not while picking his clothes up off a date’s bedroom floor. Not even when his mother gave him the
face every time he visited. But damn if he didn’t feel bad now. The Blackhawks’ offer flashed through his mind. It wasn’t so much the money. The Hawks offered him a better chance at the Cup if the past three seasons were any indicator. He glanced up to be once again pinned by that poignant stare. And before he knew what he was doing, he said, “Yeah. Yeah, we have a deal,” and stood, extending his hand across the desk. Her small, soft hand felt fragile folded inside his big, callused one, and he smiled. So did she.
“You won’t regret this.”
His heart clenched.
“Uh, I think we should take a moment and consider — ”
“Brad, I appreciate your help, but I’m staying in Vegas for at least one more season.” Carter faced his agent and braced for the storm, but Brad contained it. Barely, judging from his clenched jaw and tense posture. Well, he could just deal with it.
• • •
By 6:05, Jacey had organized all of the documents into color-coded folders. Jack Vaughn’s brilliance had not extended to his organizational skills. She ran a hand along the smooth, black leather of the chair and sighed. Having put her things away, she locked her new office door behind her.