Marek, p.1
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       Marek, p.1

         Part #11 of Cold Fury Hockey series by Sawyer Bennett
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  Marek 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) 2018 by Sawyer Bennett Excerpt from Bishop by Sawyer Bennett copyright (c) 2018 by Sawyer Bennett 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 Bishop by Sawyer Bennett. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.

  Ebook ISBN 9780399178412

  Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi

  Cover photograph: Laurence Monneret/Getty Images





  Title Page


  Chapter 1: Marek

  Chapter 2: Gracen

  Chapter 3: Marek

  Chapter 4: Gracen

  Chapter 5: Marek

  Chapter 6: Gracen

  Chapter 7: Marek

  Chapter 8: Gracen

  Chapter 9: Marek

  Chapter 10: Gracen

  Chapter 11: Marek

  Chapter 12: Gracen

  Chapter 13: Marek

  Chapter 14: Gracen

  Chapter 15: Marek

  Chapter 16: Gracen

  Chapter 17: Marek

  Chapter 18: Gracen

  Chapter 19: Marek

  Chapter 20: Gracen

  Chapter 21: Marek

  Chapter 22: Gracen

  Chapter 23: Marek

  Chapter 24: Gracen

  Chapter 25: Marek

  Chapter 26: Gracen

  Chapter 27: Marek

  Chapter 28: Gracen

  Epilogue: Gracen


  By Sawyer Bennett

  About the Author

  Excerpt from Bishop

  Chapter 1


  "You need to get your fucking head on straight and put your house in order."

  Yeah, that's what Reed had told me on the phone yesterday, and my response?

  "Get off my fucking back."

  No way in hell I'll ever admit to his face he's right, but it doesn't mean he's wrong. I know I've got to quit ignoring the truth of my life right now and figure out some way to accept that today it's vastly different than I'd ever imagined it would be.

  Goddamn Gracen. Keeping such a secret from me.

  A daughter.


  I'm scared as fuck.

  I sit in the gloom of my garage, the ticking of my car engine slow and steady as opposed to the beat of my heart, which is erratic. I've been gone for three days at the beach with Holt, staying drunk most of the time and ignoring the mess of my life back here in Raleigh. I'd still be there too if Reed hadn't called me yesterday and torn me a new asshole over the way I'd been ignoring Gracen and Lilly.

  Gracen is the easy excuse. I'm so angry at her I can barely stand to be in the same room. Our conversations have been brief and stilted. I left her a credit card so she could buy whatever she needs, and outside of some basic instructions regarding the house alarm and how to work the TV, we haven't spoken much. Lilly doesn't bear my anger, but I know she's feeling it. She hardly looks at me when we're in the same room, however brief it may be.

  I'd even reasoned to myself that leaving for a few days would give Lilly some respite from the tension within the house. Of course, I know her mother has got to be stressed to the max, and that's probably affecting Lilly, but I choose not to let that be my problem.

  I'd done what I set out to do. I stopped Gracen from making a fool of herself by marrying Owen Waller, and now I'm saddled with an ex-girlfriend I'd left behind long ago and a new daughter I had not expected nor frankly wanted.

  My life is fucked.

  With a sigh I get out of my car and pocket my keys. My feet are heavy as I walk up the three short steps that lead into the mudroom. My spine is locked tight in stressful anticipation of any confrontation I might have with Gracen, and acid churns in my gut over the thought of having to engage with a child who looks just like me but I have nothing in common with.

  Christ, I know nothing about kids.

  I mean, nothing.

  I open the door quietly and slip inside. The mudroom leads into a short hall. Turn right and I'm in the laundry room. Turn left and I'm in the kitchen that opens into the living area. The sound of the TV hits my ears first and I go even more on edge. That means one or both of the females now in my life are just a few short feet away, which means conversation is inevitable.

  It's going on 9 P.M. and I have no clue if Lilly is even still awake. No idea what time toddlers go to bed. All I know is that the late nights I'd been coming home this past week were late enough that Lilly had been sleeping and thus I didn't have to deal with her.

  Didn't mean I wasn't curious about her, because I am. It just means I don't know how to fucking deal with this.

  My kitchen lights are off, but the glow of the TV in the living room illuminates the area enough so I can navigate around the counter. I hope to slip unnoticed past the couch, but Gracen's head pops up. I can see by the heaviness of her eyelids she'd been sleeping.

  She stands up and rubs her face before looking at me. "We need to talk."

  "I'm tired," I say, and start to head into the formal room, the other side of which is the master suite. I'd put Gracen and Lilly upstairs in the guest bedrooms.

  "No, now," she says firmly as she walks around the couch toward me. She turns on a floor lamp and blinks from the light.

  "Tomorrow," I mutter as I walk away.

  "We're leaving tomorrow," Gracen says in an unyielding tone. "So if you want to hear what I have to say, you better stop and listen. Tomorrow will be too late."

  That stops me dead in my tracks. I turn slowly to face her. "You're not leaving."

  "Yeah, I am," she says angrily. "Lilly and I are virtual prisoners here. You demanded we come here, threatening to take her away if I didn't, and then you ignore us for a week. We don't know anyone here, and I don't even know whether to look for a job or not. But more importantly, and why I'm willing to risk your wrath if we leave, is because Lilly is confused as hell as to who you are and what your purpose in her life is."

  That right there tempers the brewing storm of anger that had been starting to rise. "What have you told her about me?"

  "Nothing," she says tiredly as she shoves her hands into the pockets of her jeans. Gracen always did fill out a pair of tight jeans nicely, and that hasn't changed over the years. She's still the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, and fuck me if I don't believe part of it is because she had my child.

  Goddamn that's confusing.

  "She only thinks you're a friend of her mommy's," she adds quietly, and that cuts me deep. Why I thought Gracen would fill her in on the fact Lilly has a daddy who was kept secret from her is beyond me, but I really expected her to just deal with the emotional fallout, I guess. I mean, I sure as shit don't know what to say to a toddler I barely know.

  "She needs to know," I say, the emotion thick on my tongue.

  "Agreed," Gracen murmurs. "But it has to be done right, and it has to be done together, and it can't be done when you aren't ever here. More than that, I only want to tell her if you plan on being active in her life. She'd be crushed if you weren't interested in her, and I'm not about to risk breaking her heart like that. You're a dick, Marek. H
ave been since the moment you dumped me four years ago because you didn't want me dragging you down in your new, fancy professional athlete life. But you cannot be that way with your daughter. I won't let you, and I'll fight you every step of the way to protect her."

  "Christ," I mutter as I drag a hand through my hair in frustration. "I need a beer. Want one?"

  Gracen shakes her head but follows me into the kitchen. I flip on the overhead light and snag a beer from the fridge. I watch as she sits on one of the short stools on the far end of the L-shaped kitchen island. She looks exhausted and frazzled, like she could snap at any moment.

  I'm such a sick bastard that part of me revels in that, because it's pretty much how I've felt ever since I found out I had a daughter I didn't know about.

  Wait...strike that.

  If I'm honest--and I'll only be honest with myself at the moment--I felt that way since learning that Gracen was going to get married. It hit me so hard I felt like I'd been hip checked and slammed into the ice face first. I'd managed to lead my life after Gracen, sometimes going weeks without thinking--too much--about her. Never thought about her when I was with other women, which is why I tried to be with a lot of women. Kept the memories away.

  But there was no way I could let her marry Owen. He would have destroyed her spirit, and that would have been a travesty to the world. I may have left her behind, but I never failed to remember that in doing so, I probably would never find better again in my life. It was a choice I had to make at the time and had never once truly regretted. Might have bemoaned it, but I didn't let myself have regret.

  When I left Gracen--who is three years younger than me--she finished college and got her nursing degree. I knew she'd never do it if she followed me for my career.

  Now I know that she not only finished college after I left, but she did so while going through a pregnancy alone and raising a daughter all by herself. It's no wonder she latched on to Owen, who could have provided her with a very posh lifestyle.

  Gracen clasps her hands in front of her and watches me guardedly with the safety of a kitchen island between us. It's the first time we've had an extended conversation since I brought her here.

  I take a swig from my bottle and then lean back against the fridge. I fight to temper the anger at Gracen with my need to get to know my daughter.

  "I want her to know I'm her father," I finally say to her.

  "And will you be a father to her?" Gracen asks primly.

  It's a fair question, but it pisses me off. "I would have been three years ago when she was born if you'd have fucking told me about her," I retort.

  Gracen sighs as she stands from the stool. "I can't do this with you, Marek. You're the one who left me behind. You're the one who said you didn't want the responsibility while you went on to your high-profile career."

  "For fuck's sake, Gracen," I growl as I storm across the floor to the island and set my bottle down so hard on the counter foam shoots out of it. "I wanted a little bit of fucking freedom. I was young and had stars in my eyes. But I never would have turned my back on you if you were pregnant."

  "Oh really?" she snarls as she slams her hands down on the counter, just two feet across from me. "And how was I supposed to know that? How was I supposed to fathom that when I was scared shitless over being pregnant and alone? When the man I loved and trusted dumped me because his career was more important?"

  "It doesn't matter what I did to you," I say softly, the anger vibrating in my chest. "I had a right to know I had a child. You deprived me of three years with my daughter, and nothing I did to you would ever justify that. Nothing you could say could ever make up for that.

  Gracen deflates right before my eyes. She seems to shrink inward on herself and her eyes go flat. Whatever I thought I knew about her selfishness in hiding Lilly from me, I suddenly realize that no matter how furious I am with her, it pales in comparison to the guilt she's feeling.

  She raises a shaky hand and pushes back a lock of hair behind her ear. Her eyes focus on my beer bottle and her voice quavers with strain. "Um...I'm a...kind of tired. Haven't been sleeping well. I'm just going to hit the bed and we can talk about it in the morning."

  Guilt and concern gnaw at me but I push it back. "You're not leaving, Gracen. Whatever it is you're thinking, don't be thinking that. I want time with Lilly, and that means she stays here."

  Her blue eyes are flat and unemotional as she looks up to me. She finally gives the barest of nods in acknowledgment and turns away. I watch her walk up the back staircase to the second floor, shoulders hunched, legs moving like they're filled with lead.

  When she's out of sight, I pick up my beer and dump the rest of it down the drain. I'm exhausted and suddenly can't wait to close my eyes and block out the world for at least a little bit.

  For tomorrow, I become a dad.

  Chapter 2


  "Pop-Tarts or Cinnamon Toast Crunch?" I ask Lilly. She sits at the long table that seats eight that separates the kitchen from the living area.

  "Eggs and sausage," she says without taking her eyes off the TV screen in the living room. She's in a Paw Patrol phase for the time being. Last week it was Doc McStuffins.

  "Sorry, baby," I tell her as I ruffle her hair. She rolls her head to get away from my touch, but that just makes me grin. She doesn't like her Paw Patrol interrupted. "Out of eggs and sausage, but we'll go to the grocery store later today."

  That gets her attention. "Will Marek be going to the store with us?"

  I cringe, pulling the refrigerator door open as quickly as possible to hide behind it so she hopefully doesn't see said cringe. It's getting so hard to field questions from her about the man she is very curious about but really doesn't understand who he is.

  A flash of anger heats me up from the inside out and I close the door a little too hard after grabbing the milk. My conversation with Marek last night didn't quite go how I'd planned. It turned into the same bitter argument we've been lobbing at each other the few times we've actually talked.

  I'm still hurt and feeling abandoned because he dumped me. I feel all righteous when I'm pointing that out to him, but all he has to do is remind me I deprived him of three amazing years with Lilly and I'm drowning in guilt. So much guilt and self-hatred that I can't even look at him when he throws that in my face, so I retreat from his loathsome stare and vicious words.

  He wins and we go on as before. Not talking and not getting anything resolved.

  Marek seemed to make a commitment last night to getting to know Lilly. He wants her to know he's her father, and it's time. I've been waiting on pins and needles for him to get up this morning, figuring we might as well sit down with her and explain things. Lilly is always up at the crack of dawn, which means so too am I. Marek is a bit of a late sleeper, though, and my nerves are firing on all cylinders waiting for him to grace us with his presence.

  I look over at Lilly before reaching into the cupboard for a plastic cup. I had to go buy child-appropriate plates and cups when we first arrived, ignoring the abundance of paper plates in Marek's pantry that he prefers to eat off rather than dirtying dishes. She's watching me expectantly for an answer, her curiosity over Marek far more tempting that Sky and Chase and the rest of the pups on TV.

  I open my mouth to tell her something vague because I have no clue if Marek is going to wake up today and bail on us like he usually does, or if he's going to man up and be a dad to Lilly. I don't even get a sound out when Marek walks into the kitchen and asks Lilly, "Is Marek going where with you today?"

  My hand shakes and I pour milk over the edge of the glass, hitting the counter with a splash. I tip the carton back up and set it down, making a grab for some paper towels. I don't miss the shy smile that Lilly gives him and before ducking her head without answering him.

  "We need some things at the grocery store," I tell him casually over my shoulder as I mop up the spilled milk without shedding a single tear over it.

bsp; Marek glances at Lilly, who is now refusing to look at him, and the consternation on his face is easy to read. He just tried to open up a conversation with his daughter and she shut him down, not maliciously but unwittingly. She doesn't know that Marek feels as awkward around her as she feels around him.

  The front doorbell rings, causing relief to wash over Marek's face. He turns back to the formal living room quickly, happy to be removed from the situation of a shy daughter he doesn't know at all. "I'll get that."

  Lilly's gaze returns to the TV and she's once again engrossed in Paw Patrol, although I see her sneak a peek at Marek's retreating back. My heart throbs with sorrow for all the ways in which she just doesn't understand how her life has gotten so crazy lately.

  I'm resolved that as soon as Marek comes back in, we're going to sit down with Lilly and set her mind at ease. I only hope to God, for Lilly's sake, that Marek was serious last night when he indicated he wants a relationship with her. And truthfully, I hope for my sake too, because while I'll put her in my car and drive back home with my tail between my legs, it's definitely not the best option.

  Footsteps echo along the hardwood in the formal living room, lighter than Marek's, and I'm surprised to see a woman walk into the kitchen. She glances at Lilly, her smile soft, before looking to me. "Hey, Gracen, I'm Josie."

  "Um...hi," I say, thoroughly confused as to what this very pretty woman is doing in Marek's house. A girlfriend? Housekeeper?

  She doesn't look or act like either, her smile warm and friendly and...knowing?

  The woman must sense my confusion and unease, because she walks around the counter and sticks her hand out for me to shake. I take it tentatively.

  "I'm sorry, this must be weird for you," she says as she grasps me warmly. "Let me start again. I'm Josie, and I'm Reed Olson's girlfriend. Reed and Marek are best friends."

  "I met him," I tell her with a hesitant smile. "At the wedding. Well...almost wedding."

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