Ryker, p.1
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       Ryker, p.1

         Part #4 of Cold Fury Hockey series by Sawyer Bennett
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Ryker


  Ryker is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  A Loveswept eBook Original Copyright (c) 2015 by Sawyer Bennett Excerpt from Delayed Penalty by Sophia Henry copyright (c) 2015 by Sophia Henry All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

  LOVESWEPT is a registered trademark and the LOVESWEPT colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

  This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book Delayed Penalty by Sophia Henry. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.

  eBook ISBN 9781101886786

  Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi

  Cover photograph: Stefano Cavoretto/123RF

  readloveswept.com

  v4.1

  ep

  Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Chapter 1: Ryker

  Chapter 2: Gray

  Chapter 3: Ryker

  Chapter 4: Gray

  Chapter 5: Ryker

  Chapter 6: Gray

  Chapter 7: Ryker

  Chapter 8: Gray

  Chapter 9: Ryker

  Chapter 10: Gray

  Chapter 11: Ryker

  Chapter 12: Gray

  Chapter 13: Ryker

  Chapter 14: Gray

  Chapter 15: Ryker

  Chapter 16: Gray

  Chapter 17: Ryker

  Chapter 18: Gray

  Chapter 19: Ryker

  Chapter 20: Gray

  Chapter 21: Ryker

  Chapter 22: Gray

  Chapter 23: Ryker

  Chapter 24: Gray

  Chapter 25: Ryker

  Chapter 26: Gray

  Chapter 27: Ryker

  Chapter 28: Gray

  Chapter 29: Ryker

  Epilogue: Gray

  Acknowledgments

  By Sawyer Bennett

  About the Author

  The Editor's Corner

  Excerpt from Delayed Penalty

  Chapter 1

  Ryker

  It all seems to happen at once.

  The washing machine starts shaking hard during the spin cycle, and while I'm able to easily ignore the way it bangs up against the dryer while I braid Violet's hair, I can't help the full body cringe when I hear the liquid laundry detergent that I had sitting on the top fall and hit the tile floor.

  Yup...that resounding splat was the sound of the plastic splitting open, and I can clearly see in my mind the slick blue detergent leaking out onto the floor. I can imagine it vividly because I did the same damn thing last week. Overloaded the machine because I'm too lazy to do two loads when I can cram it all into one, causing the machine to tip off balance and dislodge all the crap I had sitting on top.

  My fingers, however, never miss a beat. They keep grasping and crossing over the thick, dark locks of Violet's hair while she quietly hums a song to herself, swinging her little legs back and forth happily while she sits on the kitchen chair. At age seven, she's the quiet one...the dreamer. I don't have to see her face at this moment to know that there will be a tiny smile and a faraway look in her gray eyes as she spins another epic fantasy story she's creating in her beautiful head.

  "D-a-a-a-d," Ruby shrieks from upstairs.

  It's a sound that once used to cause all the hair to stand up on my arms and on more than one occasion caused me to go tearing after the call of my youngest daughter thinking she was being murdered by an intruder. I've since come to recognize that particular shrill cry as one of excitement and wonder, and I can't help but grin over what Ruby is possibly into now. At almost five years old, she refuses to accept the concept of a well-mannered, indoor voice and goes balls to the wall in everything she does.

  "Is the house on fire, Rubes?" I call out.

  Her little voice shouts back to me in a squawk. "No."

  "Have aliens landed?" I keep my voice just loud enough to carry up the stairs but still decibels below her own.

  "No," she yells, and there...right there...that's a little giggle from her.

  "Did Timmy fall down the well?"

  "No, Dad...but you have to come here," she yells, and, to give her credit, it's toned down just a bit. When I don't answer her right away, she calls down in a sweet voice that makes my heart pitter-patter. "Please, Dad."

  Brilliant, little brat. Throwing in some manners to throw me off my game.

  "I'll be right there," I tell her as I finish the last of Violet's braid and manage to efficiently bind it with a hair elastic. Leaning over, I place a kiss on her head. "All done, dreamy dwarf."

  Violet leans her head back and gives me an upside-down grin. I love the sprinkle of freckles on her nose and it compels me to kiss her again.

  "Do me a favor," I tell her as I turn toward the living room. "Get the cereal and milk out for me while I go see what your sister needs?"

  I don't bother waiting to see what she does, because Violet has become my metaphorical right hand over the last few months. While she still loves for me to braid her hair and help with her homework, she's also relished taking on a bit of a caretaker role since the girls moved in with me permanently this past summer.

  They've been here almost six months and I actually feel like I know what the hell I'm doing now. It wasn't always like that, and thank God for Kate's help or I would have gone insane in those first few months of becoming a single parent of two little girls. Kate patiently helped me establish a routine and taught me how to braid hair, distinguish excited shrieks from cries of pain, and most important...how to conduct the perfect princess tea party.

  I skirt my way through the living room, bending over to pick up one of Ruby's dolls from the floor, and bound up the stairs taking two at a time. I find Ruby in the bathroom that she and Violet share, bent over the toilet and peering at something.

  She shares the same dark hair and gray eyes as Violet, except her locks spring out everywhere in a mass of tiny curls. I have no idea where that came from, but assume it's a rogue strand of ancestral DNA from either me or my soon-to-be ex-wife, Hensley. Both of us, as well as Violet, have fairly straight hair, so Ruby is definitely dipping into the family gene pool with her wild curls, but damn...they totally fit with her personality.

  "What's up?" I ask as I walk over to the toilet.

  She straightens up, shoots me a grin, and points. "Look...a spider."

  I cautiously take a step forward and lean over, grimacing as I look into the bowl.

  And holy shit...a spider the size of a T rex is floating on the surface, all eight legs spread out, bent and poised to look as if it's ready to leap out and attach itself to my face. I suppress a full spinal shudder and reach a tentative hand toward the handle to flush it.

  Two things happen almost simultaneously that take at least three years off my life.

  The spider somehow manages to skitter across the water, the beast so large it actually creates waves, and Ruby shrieks at me, "No! Don't kill it, Dad!"

  It is with a major blow to my pride--as a man, as a dad, as a six-foot, six-inch professional hockey player nicknamed the Brick because I'm as big and tough as a brick wall--that I jump backward at least two feet from the monster-infested toilet and banshee-crying sprite, causing my hip to slam into the corner of the sink.

  "Shit," I curse loudly, and Ruby's eyes go round, followed by her lips.

  "Oh, Dad...that's a bad word."

  No shit.

  I smile at her as I rub my hip. That's definitely going to leave a bruise. "Sorry, Rubes. I'll put a dollar in the swear jar."

&
nbsp; She merely nods her acceptance of my apology and turns worried eyes back to the toilet.

  "You have to save it," she implores.

  Yeah...that's not going to happen. Not now. Not ever.

  "Sure, baby," I tell her as I take her by the shoulder and turn her toward the bathroom door. I swear the spider glares at me with a million red, evil eyes. "Go on down and get breakfast. Violet's fixing your cereal. I'll get the spider out."

  "Okay," Ruby says as she pulls away from me, but continues to give me instructions. "But let it out the front door and I'll bring it some food later."

  "Sounds like a plan," I assure her as she disappears down the stairs. When I hear her feet hit the bottom landing, I turn toward the toilet, intent on a quick flush to put me out of my misery.

  Except when I look in the bowl, the fucking thing is gone.

  I'll just go ahead and admit it. Spiders scare the living hell out of me. I have no clue why, and while I would battle the biggest, baddest monster to the death for my daughters, I'd much rather flush a little spider down the toilet.

  I immediately scramble backward out of the bathroom, grabbing the doorknob and shutting it quickly behind me. My heart is racing a million miles an hour, the thought of that furry hell beast now loose in my house.

  Just one more thing on the list of things I still need to do today.

  Get the girls dressed and ready for school.

  Take the girls to school.

  Clean up the spilled laundry detergent.

  Finish the laundry.

  Arm myself with a can of hairspray and a lighter to torch the rogue spider in the bathroom.

  Pick up my dry cleaning.

  Work out.

  Team practice.

  Pick up the girls from Kate and Zack's house.

  Dinner.

  Baths.

  Story time and cuddling.

  Go to bed because I'll be exhausted.

  Easy as fucking pie, and I'll get up and do it all over again the next day with a smile on my face. I'm finding life as a single parent isn't as daunting as I thought it would be and I've finally found my groove.

  And my role as a single dad isn't the only place I've found my groove, because as it stands right now I happen to be playing some of the best hockey of my career with the Carolina Cold Fury. That would be the same team that I let down during the playoffs last season, ending our shot at a Cup run.

  As I stand here on December's doorstep, we are two months into the season. Twenty-three games down. Sixteen games won. My goals against average is hovering at a 1.92 and my save percentage is .936. Best goalie stats in the league and I'm on fucking fire. If I continue with this streak, I've got another shot at a Vezina Trophy. More important, if my stamina holds out, we are looking at another serious run at the championship, which would help ease my guilty conscience. Not nearly as important, but something that does give me a small bit of pleasure, I want to yell out to all those doubters, naysayers, and assholes who have called me too old to still be playing hockey, In your face!

  I just turned thirty-two, for Christ's sake. I've still got years left in the league the way I'm playing.

  My phone gives a short chime and I pull it out of my pocket. I can't help the curl of slight disgust that comes to my lips when I see an email from Hensley. Most people would agree: A man is allowed to be disgusted by his wife when she sleeps with another man. Even more so when that other man is a teammate.

  But that's not why I curl my lips and wrinkle my nose. No, I'm pretty much past that, and I know I'm past it because I just don't think about it anymore. In fact, I'm expecting the final divorce decree in the mail any day now. Our hearing was last month in Boston and my lawyer assured me it would sail through with no hitches, mainly because Hensley and I were able to agree on a division of our assets and custody of the girls coming to me.

  No...there is absolutely not a single remaining bitter feeling left in me about the loss of my wife and her betrayal to our marriage. It's over and I'm ready to move on.

  I am, however, completely affronted by Hensley's attitude toward her daughters. Those precious silver-eyed beauties whom she dumped on my doorstep before she checked out of their lives so she could run around the country with her boy toy during hockey season.

  A quick glance at her email and my stomach knots up. A simple reminder that she'll be in town next week when the Boston Eagles--my former team--will be here in Raleigh to play the Cold Fury. Because Hensley is still currently fucking my former Eagle teammate Patric Sutter, and living with him on the road, she'll be here for a visit. Obviously, she wants to spend some time with Violet and Ruby.

  I hit Reply, but before my fingers can even begin to type what I hope will be a fairly calm response--because let's face it, I'm not going to keep her away from the girls--my phone starts ringing, immediately followed by a picture of Zack popping up.

  Zack Grantham.

  My teammate. My best friend.

  Boyfriend to Kate Francis, my girls' part-time nanny and the angel who helped me get grounded when I needed it most.

  "What's up?" I say, leaning back against the hallway wall. I keep an eye on the space below the bathroom door, making sure the spider doesn't come prowling out. I have my foot poised to strike out and stomp the little fucker if it shows.

  "Dude...turn on the TV right now to channel thirty-three," he says in a rush.

  I don't think to question the urgency in Zack's voice and quickly step into Violet and Ruby's room to grab the remote. I deftly change the channel to the sports news network as I sit on the end of Violet's little twin bed decorated in purple flowers and white lace.

  "...while this is still very much speculation, it appears the wheels are in motion for the league to see its first female general manager in its ninety-eight-year existence. Sources inside the Cold Fury office will do nothing more than confirm that while Brian Brannon has stepped down from his position as the team's general manager, he will still retain his position as president and CEO of the organization. A more formal statement is expected later today."

  The male reporter turns to his co-anchor at the desk, a beautiful blonde who looks more like a beauty queen than a sports reporter and says, "So, Jessica...potentially historic news coming out of Raleigh, North Carolina, today."

  The blonde nods seriously and turns to face the camera. "Very historic and also controversial. If these rumors are true, Grayson Brannon, daughter and heir to the Brannon fortune, will become the first female general manager of a professional hockey team. I'm sure this is going to spark a lot of heated debate over her capabilities, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out."

  The male reporter nods sagely and looks down at a digital tablet sitting before him on the desk. "Already, Twitter is blowing up with comments about the potential change in management."

  A news graphic appears to the left of the reporter on the TV screen, showing some of the tweets as he reads them out loud. "Here's one from @FuryFan4Life...What the hell is @Carolina_Cold_Fury thinking? A woman general manager? Ridiculous."

  The blond reporter props her chin in the palm of her hand, watching her co-anchor as he reads the tweets, her face the perfect mask of concerned interest.

  "Gray Brannon is more than qualified. Give her a chance," he reads aloud. "That's from @carolina_girl_87."

  "There's going to be a lot of polarized opinions about this," the blonde says, and the camera zooms in on her. "But everyone needs to remember, Gray Brannon may be young, but she has the experience needed--"

  I hit the mute button on the TV, not needing to hear all about Gray Brannon. I know plenty already.

  "Think it's true?" I ask Zack as I put him on speakerphone.

  "No idea. I was just watching TV and this breaking news came on."

  Almost as if by eerie design, my phone chimes and a text appears. It's from the Cold Fury office and simply says, Team Meeting 5PM.

  "Did you just get that text?" Zack asks.

  "Yup, and I'm go
ing to go out on a limb and say it's true."

  Zack gives a low whistle. "Ballsy move for Brannon."

  That it is.

  Moving his daughter into the position of the team's general manager. Fucking ballsy as hell and I'm guessing it's going to cause some dissension in the ranks.

  Not from me, though. I personally think Gray Brannon can do the job. She is, after all, the one personally responsible for getting me traded to the Cold Fury, and for that alone she has my support.

  Chapter 2

  Gray

  "I don't even have to ask if you're ready to do this," my dad says to me as we take the elevator down to the basement level of the arena.

  Leaning casually back against the wall, I eye myself critically in the reflection of the bronzed doors and feel confident in my wardrobe choice. Long black skirt with a lace overlay in the same color that comes about three inches past my knees. While it hugs my figure all the way down, it has a flared bottom and a small slit up the back. I paired it with black fishnet stockings and trendy heels with a pointed toe. The ruffles of a cream-color blouse peek out neck to chest from the black, buttoned cardigan, purposely form fitting so there is no mistaking the curve of my breasts.

  No mistaking I am a woman walking into a lion's den.

  My makeup is applied flawlessly to enhance my pale skin and fire-red, shoulder-length hair. Said hair is styled just the way I like it--big barrel-type waves that are set to perfection when I put my fingers into my hair and give a good jazz-hands shake while bent over. After flipping back up, the wild waves and curls make me look like a windblown but stylish mess.

  My look today is calculated. It screams feminine--with a slight Victorian flair thanks to my late mother's brooch pinned at the base of my throat. It also screams sexy--courtesy of fishnet stockings, a snug fit, and four-inch-high heels. Finally, it screams of individuality, because I shunned a properly conservative suit and went with an eclectic mix so there is no mistaking the fact that I think outside the box.

  It's why I am now the general manager of the Carolina Cold Fury.

 
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