She had a bad dream.
It was about him.
She hated that even now, after all of these years, he still managed to haunt her. Maybe it was because Seraphina Hanson had had a job for her and he had been picked up by the Newport Beach Seagulls just before the trade deadline, along with Art Jackman. Maybe it was because now that he was back in southern California, the chance of running into him on the street was much more possible than when he had been down in Florida.
He probably hated Florida. The guy couldn’t stand humidity.
Not that she cared.
Diana cleared her throat and forced herself out of bed. She couldn’t allow herself to think about Dean Morgan. The guy was an asshole. Just because they had a history did not mean anything.
“It’s been five years since I saw him,” she muttered to herself. “Why the hell…” She didn’t finish that thought. She didn’t want to wake Bill.
Looking down at her boyfriend of nine months, she felt her lips curve into a small smile. Bill. She needed to remember that she had Bill now and that was what mattered.
Not Dean friggin’ Morgan and his asshole tendencies.
She clenched her jaw and tried to get comfortable. Her eyes closed and she turned on her side. She tried to relax but her mind buzzed with anticipation. This was almost as bad as her sex dream with Pennywise the Clown from It, but at least she didn’t have actual experience with Tim Curry so romantic feelings didn’t actually linger.
This was not the case with Dean Morgan. She had met him as a high school graduate. He was ten years older than she was, the epitome of a bad boy in a leather jacket and slicked back black hair. Even now, she refused to let Bill wear one. It brought back too many memories.
Which was stupid, since that had nearly been ten years ago. It had been one summer with a pro hockey player. A whirlwind romance that had no choice but to fizzle out.
She hadn’t gotten over him for the longest time. One of their mutual friends said he took a chainsaw to the sofa the day before he left to go back to Florida for training camp.
Thinking about it now, Diana shuddered. They had so many memories on that godawful sofa. If he had really done that…
Maybe he had been affected by the breakup more than she thought.
She wondered if the little things she left at his place – a thin scarf she used to wear when she thought she was being so sophisticated, even in the California sunshine; an old pleather jacket she had bought from Forever 21 at Fashion Island to complete the outfit she wore on their first date; her old toothbrush – made things worse. Maybe he didn’t care. Maybe he threw them out like they were trash, yesterday’s news.
Not that mattered. She had Bill. Beautiful Bill who had nothing in common with Dean Morgan.
She pulled the cover under her chin, turning away from Bill so she stared at the beige wall currently filled with bleak shadows. Regardless of the reassurances she tried to give herself, she couldn’t fall back asleep.
The problem was, Bill was an avid Gulls fan. He worked for Grant Winsor as a paralegal who made decent money despite the nature of the job. He was completing his final year in law school at UCLA and would be graduating in the next couple of months before he took the bar exam. Everyone aware of Grant Winsor knew he was an avid Gulls fan – his daughter was even dating first line right winger Kyle Underwood. Grant had his own season tickets and his firm also had glass tickets he liked to give out to clients or employees.
And tonight was Game 1 in the damn Stanley Cup finals and they had glass seats. Diana had managed to avoid attending any game with Bill quite successfully – she had work, she was sick, she was out with her friends. But he purposefully made plans to take her to the game without telling her they were going until he turned into the Ice Palace.
“What are we doing here?” she asked – although yelped was probably a better descriptor.
“I thought I’d surprise you,” Bill said, a big smile on his face. “I know you’re a Gulls fan, so I didn’t get why you kept avoiding going to the games – even playoff games – with me. But I wouldn’t want to take anyone to the finals except you.” He grabbed her hand, resting on her lap, and brought it to his lips. “You think we’ll get on the kiss cam?”
Oh, God. The kiss cam? She hadn’t even thought about the kiss cam. This was too damn much.
Maybe he won’t even see you, an internal voice pointed out. Maybe there will be no kiss cam tonight. Maybe Dean will be a healthy scratch.
She snorted. Yeah, right. Dean Morgan might be in his thirties and getting close to retirement age in hockey, maybe he wasn’t as fast as he normally was, but the man was still damn solid and gritty as any other twenty-year-old kid. He was good at what he did – more defensive than offensive, but that was why he was paired with Solis. When Solis jumped in an offensive play, he was a reliable defender to watch the blue line.
Not that she noticed.
The tickets they had included parking so they found a spot and headed for the rink. It was crowded, which made sense, considering the game was just about to start. Traffic prevented them from making warm-ups, which made Diana feel like God was smiling down on them. After walking through security, they headed to their seats. She pulled her motorcycle jacket closer to her. If he had told her they were going to a damn hockey game and sitting against the glass, she would have worn her old UCI hoodie, wouldn’t have straightened her hair, or even bothered with makeup. She would have made herself as unnoticeable as possible.
However, considering this was a date, Clara actually put effort into the way she looked. Thank goodness she hadn’t opted for that skirt she was going to wear, although she had a feeling Bill probably would have said something.
She wished he had. She would have refused to come. But he knew that – hence why he kept quiet about everything.
Bill led her down to their seats. She shouldn’t have been surprised when they were at the glass just behind the Gulls’ bench, which meant there were plenty of opportunities for Dean to see her. She swallowed as she sat, glad that they had arrived too late to watch warm-ups.
“Do you want something to munch on?” Bill asked. “I’m going to grab a hot dog.”
Was he seriously asking her about food now? After taking her here, to a place he specifically knew she didn’t want to be? She tried to keep her glare in check, reminding herself that he was just trying to be polite. He wanted to ensure his girlfriend was fed and satisfied. She understood.
“I’m fine.” She hoped her voice didn’t actually sound as shrill as she thought it did. She hoped her voice wasn’t as sharp or as maniacal as it came out. “Thank you.”
He gave her an odd look but luckily he didn’t say anything about it, even when she pressed her teeth together and shot him a smile. It was probably the most ridiculous smile he had ever seen. But he left, nodding his head, probably to himself, leaving Clara alone to breathe.
She started coming up with different ways for how she was going to get out of this. She could pretend to be sick – but stomach issues might not be worth it to Bill for him to leave the game.
He would, she thought to herself. You know if you really wanted to, you could ask him to leave and he would leave. That was how much he loved you.
Clara took the bill of her hat and pulled it down, hoping it would hide her face even more than it already was. Her temporarily straight hair masked her profile. It had been seven years since she saw him. She was twenty-six now, which would make him thirty-six. They hadn’t seen each other, nor talked to each other in that time. Well, save for when Clara saw him on television, playing hockey.
Clara stretched out her legs as best as she could, having seats behind the bench. Luckily, the Zambonis were sweeping the ice and ensuring it was smooth enough to play on. The timer above on the cubed big screen said there was roughly ten minutes until puck drop. Clara knew that meant she had eight minutes before the Gulls were on the ice once again.
She thought about telling Bill her history with Dean Morgan. Part of her wanted to, especially considering she wasn’t sure why she was keeping it a secret in the first place. But she worried he might not believe her or assume she was only saying that to try and impress him. Bill was sweet but he was rational and there were times he dismissed what Clara said because he didn’t think she knew what she was talking about. She refrained from talking to him about hockey only because she was actually very thorough in her understanding of the sport and didn’t want to get into a battle when she pointed out something that he thought was accurate as actually being false.
“I hear he’s still single,” a voice said from behind her. “Jackman got with that petite blonde chick. I don’t remember her name, but Morgan is still single. Rumor has it he likes to pick up women outside after a win so let’s hope the Gulls win tonight.”
“Candace, we should hope the Gulls win because we want them to win the Stanley Cup,” a second voice said. “Not because we have a thing for a veteran defenseman.”
The first voice, Candace, snorted. “I honestly don’t care one way or the other,” she remarked. “All I care about is getting into bed with Morgan. I’ve been on those hockey forums and the women who have hooked up with him say he’s a very generous partner.”
“And how do you know those things are even true?”
“I don’t, but everything has a grain of truth. At least, that’s what my mom always says.”
“And do you really want to take your mother’s advice?”
“Cheap shot,” Candace said. “Look, I don’t care about hockey, but Dean Morgan is gorgeous and he’s one of the few Gulls that are still single. Even that Russian guy, the one who got divorced last year, is seeing someone. At least I’m not focusing on the guys that are with someone, Ariel.”
“How very considerate.” It sounded as though Ariel didn’t bother to hide her sarcasm if she tried. “Look, my dad gave up his seat because of work. I took you so you could get into the game with me, not to get laid. Doesn’t it make you wonder why he’s still single? Isn’t he supposed to be in his thirties?”
“Who cares, when he looks like that?” Candace said. “I’m going I catch his eye. I wore a low cut shirt for a reason.”
Clara pressed her lips together. She didn’t particularly care that a woman was trying to get Dean’s attention because Dean was not her concern anymore. But she did not need anyone trying to get his attention because that would inevitably bring attention to her.
She glanced up at the clock. Three minutes and twenty-three seconds.
The lights dimmed. The mascot dropped from the ceiling, waving the Gulls flag, getting the entire stadium to cheer and scream. And then, the other team – the Florida Gators – touched the ice, causing the majority of the spectators to stand and boo.
When the Gulls touched the ice, Clara held her breath. She immediately saw Morgan, wearing the number thirty plastered on his back. Fitting, he was playing his old team. Thirty, for her birthday. He still wore it.
Bill got back just in time but Clara didn’t notice. As Dean headed to the bench, preparing for the national anthem, he looked up and happened to catch eyes with her.
“Oh my God, he’s staring at me!” Candace exclaimed.
Clara wished. But he wasn’t. She knew Dean saw her, recognized her, even with the hat and the hair. His eyes still on her as the anthem was sung told her as much.
Dean Morgan was ready to win. He was focused, he was sharp, he felt good. And then he saw Clara, and everything fell apart.
She looked beautiful, the way she did years ago when he got to call her his. Her red hair was straight and her face was half-hidden underneath that Gulls hat but he instantly recognized her jaw, those lips, that small nose. He hadn’t expected to see her again. He thought about her every single goddamn day that passed, but he never thought he would see her after he left her. She should have come with him. Maybe he should have stayed. But they were ripped apart by circumstance and it was the angriest, most depressed he had ever felt in his life.
He cleared his throat and shook his head, trying to focus. He skated back to the bench, ready for the national anthem while Jackman and his defense partners, Underwood, Schumacher, and Ryan stayed out on the ice, getting in position. They would start the game.
As Dawn Rutgar belted out the national anthem, Dean shook off his nerves. Once he stepped on the ice for his first shift, he was fine. The anticipation leading up to that first shift, however, caused his legs to tingle, his body to brim with energy, and he needed to do something active in order to shake it off.
Now, though, Dean continued to stare at Clara from the corner of his eye. She completely avoided eye contact; Dean wasn’t sure if Clara had was avoiding him on purpose or if she hadn’t seen him. But Clara wasn’t stupid. She knew more about hockey than any woman he had met, and that fact was still true today. She would know he was on the Gulls. Now, whether she actually cared was a different story altogether.
“You ready?” Cherney patted Dean on the back, his eyes on the ice. “I don’t know how it’s going to be, Morgan, but don’t be afraid to get chippy.”
Dean nodded but didn’t respond. His focus was on the referee, skating out to the middle of the ice, black puck in his hand. He hoped he was still focused; he hoped he was still ready. But all he could think about – at least, at the moment – was Clara Daniels, the one that got away.
Once he got into the game, he set Clara aside. He would come back to her later, of course, but unless he happened to see her in his peripheral vision or as he skated back to the bench after completing his shift, he was all in. The first period was winding down and neither team had gotten on the board yet. For now, it was a battle between goaltenders, which put even more pressure on the defensemen to keep pucks out, to make sure they weren’t accidentally screening Brandon Thorpe, and to check opponents so they would cough up the puck. They also needed to make sure when they cleared the puck, they did it where it hit the boards or a player so it wouldn’t turn into an icing call, and the Gulls players would be forced to stay on the ice rather than change.
Clearing the puck was actually a skill he had that he was proud of. Centers took face offs; defensemen cleared pucks, and Dean was able to do so in a way where it did not turn into an icing call against the team.
The irony wasn’t lost on Dean as he hopped over the boards to skate probably his last shift of the period. Facing Florida in the Stanley Cup finals, the team he had spent the last eight years with. They had traded him at the deadline, and Seraphina Hanson, owner and manager of the Gulls, grabbed him because she wanted grit and experience on her blue line. There was a personal thread Dean couldn’t help but tug as he battled with his former teammates, many of whom he still called friend. He wanted to win, wanted to make sure everyone knew what a mistake the general manager made in thinking he was useless, that he couldn’t help take the team to the finals.
There was no such thing as friend, either, at least when they were on the ice. Before and after, respect was given and received. He could probably take the majority of his former teammates to a bar for a drink, but during the game, they stood in the way of the goal: win.
Dean felt more comfortable skating than walking. He dashed to his zone and immediately got in position. Began had the puck and was skating alongside Drew Stefano and Viktor Jonssan. Morgan and Solis skated just behind them, crossing the blue line into Florida’s zone just enough to form a long rectangle with their other teammates.
Began shot the puck. The goaltender, Hiller, blocked it, and directed a fat rebound to the side. Viktor Jonssan went to pick it up. Began skated toward the crease, which caused him to get check and shoved by Florida’s defense and even Hiller himself.
Viktor passed it back to Morgan. Morgan stopped the puck but made sure to keep its momentum going so the black disk didn’t completely stop moving. He took a hard shot at Hiller once again. Another rebound. All of the Gulls’ forwards went for it. There was chaos at the net. Not even Dean could see what was happening.
The buzzer sounded and the lights started to flash. Somehow, the Gulls had scored.
Negan came flying out from the pack, throwing himself into the boards. Morgan, along with everyone on the ice, went to give him a congratulations.
It was so loud in the rink, Dean couldn’t hear himself think. His heart pounded against his chest, echoing in his ear. This was it. This was exactly what he wanted. They were up. Dean looked at the scoreboard. Forty-seven seconds left of the period. He hadn’t even heard the one-minute warning.
Anything could happen in forty-seven seconds.
It was part of the reason he loved hockey so much. A game could be won in two seconds. A game could be lost in the same amount of time. Which meant there was a lot of pressure on the defensemen as well as Brandon Thorpe in order to ensure another goal did not go in before that buzzer sounded and the period was over.
The Gulls had all of the momentum right now. If Florida scored, that momentum would shift, and the Gators would go to the locker room with more confidence than if they didn’t score. Dean – and the team – wanted to hang onto that momentum and do whatever it took in order to ensure they were going to the locker room winning the game.
It did not surprise him that those last seconds were played with both desperation and chippiness. Dean had no problem throwing his body around, knocking the red and blue players out of the crease. He had to be extremely careful, however. If the Gulls drew a penalty, the Gators would be on a power play once the game resumed, which meant they would be rested for twenty minutes, ready to play. The momentum would be on their side.
The clock ticked down. Dean was too focused on the game to even risk looking up and seeing the time. He kept playing, kept shoving people out of the way, kept clearing the puck from the zone, until that buzzer sounded and freed him. It felt like forever, like the longest forty seconds of his entire life, but, like everything, they finally came to an end, and the loud buzzer sounded.
Everyone – Gulls and Gators – stopped playing and proceeded to head into their respective locker rooms. The majority of the crowd cheered, applauding the Gulls as they headed back to the locker room.
Now that he wasn’t playing, he had been freed from his spell. His head snapped around and he looked over at Clara as he skated off the ice and to his bench. She was standing but she was standing next to someone. A man. A man who turned his body to talk to her. It wasn’t anybody in her family. Dean knew her younger brother and she didn’t have cousins, at least on her mother’s side. Her Dad and his family lived scattered across the eastern United States. Her mother and brother and one uncle lived in Orange County.
Maybe one of her other relatives came out to spend time with her. That was possible.
Until Dean watched with narrowed eyes as this man squeezed Clara’s side with his hand playfully. He was glad to see that Clara did not grin or even react. Her eyes – still practically hidden by her hat – were on him. Her body was unnecessarily tense. She did not know how to react to seeing him, and he felt the same way.
All he could think was, She’s mine, she’s still mine, and anyone who says otherwise is going to get the shit beat out of them.
He wanted – needed – to talk to her, but he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He didn’t have her phone number anymore he’d had to get rid of it or he would have been tempted to call every day.
“What’s wrong with you?” a gravelly voice asked from beside Dean, snapping him out of his thoughts and forcing him to pull his gaze away from Clara. “You’re staring.”
Art Jackman. Goddamn Art Jackman and his goddamn timing.
Dean reached up to tap spectators and fans who thrust their hands out of the stadium in order to try and garner a high five as they headed into their locker room before responding to Art Jackman.
“Just thinking,” Dean said through a huff once they were safely inside and no one could overheat.
“Thinking with your eyes?” The doubt was evident in his voice.
There were times Dean wanted to punch his own teammates. This was one of those times. Just because Dean had confided in Art a couple of weeks ago, that did not mean Dean was still willing to share what was on his mind. Especially if that person was Clara fucking Daniels, a blast from his past.
“Let’s just focus on the game, asshole,” Dean said as they stepped into the locker room. He was mindful not to cross the Gulls logo in the center of the floor. He didn’t consider himself superstitious but he also wasn’t willing to risk it on the off-chance that the superstition was true.
“As long as you can,” Art said with a smirk.
Dean clenched his teeth together. Art wasn’t just an asshole, he was a smartass, and that was worse than just being an asshole.
Once everyone was in the locker room, Cherney gave his usual speech about trying hard, not to let any of these fuckers walk all over them, and just because they were up by one didn’t mean shit because the game could change at any moment.
“Do you want to say anything?” he barked when he had finished, turning his attention to Brandon Thorpe.
Dean raised an eyebrow. Everyone knew Brandon Thorpe didn’t say much. He was kind of a snot in that way. He didn’t socialize, didn’t hang out. He kept to himself. If this was a movie set, he’d be the Method actor, needing isolation to help get into character. In Dean’s opinion, it was all bullshit, but Brandon had his respect because he was captain and also because he was a damn good goalie.
“You’re doing great,” Brandon said, surprising everyone in the room. Every now and then, Thorpe would make a speech, but each time he did, it was like the first: short and shocking. Shocking because he spoke in the first place. “Everyone just needs to keep the Gators out of my zone. You guys are turning it over at the blue line. And D – don’t be afraid to get tough with them.”
Dean saw the other defensemen nod. He couldn’t help but agree. They were playing well but they couldn’t make little mistakes because eventually the Gators would capitalize on them. The remainder of the break he was silent, visualizing how he was planning to play in the next quarter. But every time he tried, a familiar redhead would pop up in his thoughts and distract him once again.
The Gulls ended up winning by one. Thorpe, as usual, was a beast in the net. Nothing could get past him, even if it seemed like it should. The Gulls played one of their best games to date. Even Clara got into it by the middle of the second period. Just because she had history with one of the players didn’t mean she was suddenly not a fan.
When Negan took a bullshit penalty late in the third, Clara thought this was it. They would tie it and have to go to overtime. She did not realize the Gulls would be able to kill the penalty with tired bodies on the ice. Clara glanced across the ice to see Negan shaking his head and spitting in the box. When they replayed the supposed penalty, it was clear that the referees made a mistake and Sampson dove. Began hadn’t even touched him. Clara wondered if that would garner a makeup call for the Gulls but she realized it probably would not only because there was no time for a makeup call. If the Gulls managed to kill off the penalty, there were thirty-seven seconds left in the period.
During that penalty, Florida pulled their goalie, so there were six players opposing a tired Newport penalty kill rather than five. However, if one of the Gulls managed to ice it perfectly, the puck could potentially go in the back of the net, securing them the win.
Unfortunately, they were not able to hit the empty net. If anything, the Gulls couldn’t seem to clear the puck at all. Everyone in the stadium was on their feet, as if standing could help them see better. Bill had grabbed Clara’s hand and held onto it tightly. Neither of them spoke. They watched. The stadium was as silent as it could be.
The minute the penalty expired, Negan shot out of the box and managed to pick up the puck. He was checked into the boards in the Gator zone, coughing up the puck. He had been so close to hit that empty-netter.
The Gators had one more scoring chance. They got into formation and skated down the ice. Their passes were crisp, their skating fast. However, it wasn’t enough to get past Jackman and Morgan. Clara couldn’t help but smile as she watched the two in action. She was surprised Cherney had separated them at the beginning of the game, but she also understood it had more to do with pairing two big defensemen together and pairing two small but fast ones together. Each line needed balance. Now, though, they were both on the ice, which made sense, since they both used their bodies and managed to get the Gators to turn over the puck.
Morgan was an expert at clearing so they got it out of their zone without an icing call. Nobody could seem to score on the open bet, however, which meant, until the buzzer sounded and the game officially ended, the Gators had the chance to tie it up and force overtime.
That didn’t happen.
Thank God that didn’t happen.
When the game ended, the Gulls mascot waved the flag and the ice girls lined up, waving their signature playoff towel in the air.
The announcer enthusiastically let the crowd know of the Gulls’ win and then mentioned the three stars of the game.
“And,” the deep voice bellowed over the speakers, “the third star of the game, defenseman, number thirty, Dean Morgan!”
Clara nearly choked on her breath and she faltered in her applause. Bill, next to her, started cheering. He wasn’t a huge Morgan fan but even he could agree that Morgan brought a much-needed veteran presence to the team. More than that, he was big and wasn’t afraid to drop his gloves if he needed to. Bill respected guys like that.
Dean skated out without his helmet on, stick in hand. He waved it around as thanks to the spectators for being present, for supporting him and the team. And Clara knew what was going to happen next. She didn’t know how she knew, but she did. His eyes settled on her and skated straight towards her. He didn’t look at the kids all vying for his attention. The girl behind Clara started freaking out, thinking he was coming for her.
When Dean got to the glass, he pointed directly at Clara so everyone knew she was the one who would receive the stick and no one else, and there was no mistaking it. Even the girl behind her faltered and Clara could feel the daggers being tossed at her back.
“Holy shit,” Bill murmured from beside her.
Dean tossed the stick over the glass, his eyes still only on her. He waited to make sure Clara was the one who received the stick and no one took it from her. Bill reached his long arm up and caught the stick before bringing it down and giving it to Clara. Clara barely noticed. Her eyes were locked with Dean’s. He lingered for a moment too long before he skated off and the next player was announced.
She knew what that stare meant: this wasn’t over. Whatever was between them, whatever tension was still there, had not been forgotten.
“He looked at you like he knew you,” Bill said, shouting over the applauding crowd. “Do you know Dean Morgan?”
Before Clara could answer, one of the ushers came to them. “Excuse me,” he said in a soft voice. It was hard for them to hear him over the noise. “But you’ve been invited to get a tour of the Gulls’ locker room. May I escort you to the elevators?”
“What the hell?” Bill asked, his eyes wide. His smile was wide and bright, his entire face lighting up. “Is this something you get when you get a stick from a star of the game? I’ve never been to the locker room before. Holy shit!”
Clara pretended to be as enthused about the locker room tour as he was. The truth of the matter was, no, just because she got a stick did not mean she was guaranteed a locker room tour.
This was Dean. Dean was trying to get to her. If she said no, she would be the worst girlfriend in the history of girlfriends. Because Bill had never been a season ticket holder, he had never gotten an official tour of the Gulls’ locker room. More than that, this locker room tour would be given specifically to them by the actual players after a Stanley Cup final game. He would definitely wonder why she would turn something like that down, even if she did claim to be sick.
Clara forced a smile, grabbed her stick from Bill, and wondered if he would forgive her if she knocked him unconscious with the stick in order to avoid this whole thing.
However, that was not to be. Bill didn’t even ask her if she wanted to take the tour, and, instead, turned to look at the usher and give him an enthusiastic nod.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Clara frowned but said nothing. At the very least, she had hoped Bill would take the time to ask her about what she wanted without making the assumption that she wanted to walk around a smelly locker room and accidentally bump into players in suits or players in towels. It was literally just a room with all of their equipment. There was a small room with a television, snacks, and couches just before the actual locker room, and a room filled with sticks before the press room. The showers were to the right, adjacent to the locker room.
The only reason why Clara even knew about that was because Dean snuck her in during the summer – after obtaining permission from Ken Brown, the original owner and manager of the club, before he was murdered – to give Clara her own personal tour before they succumbed to their passion and made love against a wall in the locker room.
Even now, the memory was vivid, racing through her head like a movie. The way his hands touched her body, like her body belonged to him. The way her body reacted because he knew where to touch her and how. She felt herself her flush just thinking about it and shook her head, trying to rid herself of the memory. He probably did this on purpose. Inviting her to the locker room was probably a strategy in order to get her to remember it.
She wasn’t going to let him get to her, despite the effort.
Instead, Clara kept her head held high as she followed Bill and the usher out of the stadium and to an elevator. The elevator descended and took them into a small, quiet room.
“Hey Clara,” the receptionist said with a small wave.
Bill stopped talking, mid-sentence, in order to give Clara a curious look. “She knew your name,” he said. “Was she here when you took that job for the Gulls?”
Oh yes, the job. Seraphina had used her services in order to prove that Alec Schumacher did not rape a former ice girl the way she claimed he had. She took the job because it didn’t involve Dean and she never saw him once, plus Seraphina always paid her more than her going rate. She wrapped up her job in a week and got paid two grand. She proved Schumacher was innocent and managed to avoid Dean altogether – even with Seraphina innocently bringing him up every now and then.
“Yeah,” Clara said, clearing her throat and looking away. She did not need to go into details of why the desk attendant knew her. She had been here for years and recognized Clara from that whirlwind summer with Dean. Thank goodness she hadn’t mentioned anything in front of Bill. “Must have.”
They continued forward and stepped into the family room, so dubbed because family and girlfriends would hang out here as they waited for their players to finish up with the press and get ready to head home.
Standing outside the entrance, Clara recognized some of the players’ girlfriends – Harper, Katella Hanson (and Seraphina’s older sister), Emma, and Madison. A petite blonde woman stood with the group. She was someone Clara didn’t recognize.
“Clara!” Harper said when her eyes found Clara’s. “How are you?”
Clara waved. She didn’t want to be rude but any way to avoid mentioning her past with Dean would be helpful. She really didn’t want to have to explain herself, especially to Bill who still hadn’t even thought to question her about why Dean Morgan had given a grown woman his stick.
Harper didn’t know much about Clara and her relationship with Dean, but it wasn’t like it was a secret. People talked, and Clara knew that Seraphina and Harper went to college together. Harper had always been polite the few times they had seen each other. Clara shifted her eyes to Bill and then back at Harper. Harper paused and then nodded her head like she understood. Clara felt tension leave her body and she nearly sagged in relief.
“You know Harper Crawford?” Bill asked in a whisper. “You know she’s dating Zachary Ryan, right?”
Clara shot him a look. Was he kidding? Of course she knew that, and she didn’t appreciate that he was talking down to her. She worked for Seraphina Hanson and she even knew that Seraphina was secretly dating Brandon Thorpe. Not that she would tell that to Bill in order to throw it in his face, as though to prove herself and how she actually did possess hockey knowledge.
“Yes,” she said, her voice flat. “Yes, I was aware of that.”
Her tone seemed to go over his head.
“I cannot believe we’re about to step into the locker room,” Bill continued. He opened the door and let Clara walk in before he followed suit. Sam, the backup goalie, sat in a leather couch, dressed in a suit, watching highlights from the game. There were a couple of vending machines off to the side and a table filled with snacks behind the couch.
The door that led directly inside the locker room opened and out strode Dean Morgan, in nothing but grey sweatpants, his body dripping with water like he had just stepped out of the shower.
“Clara,” his deep, masculine voice said, his eyes locking with hers before settling on Bill. “Who is this asshole?”