Pipe Dreams

By: Sarina Bowen

ONE


BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

APRIL 2016


The first time Lauren Williams ever drank a shot of whiskey in front of her boss was the night the Brooklyn Bruisers clinched a play-offs berth for the first time since Nate Kattenberger bought the team.

It was ten o’clock, and the game against Pittsburgh had just rolled into its first overtime period. The dozen or so people in Nate’s private box were tense, leaning forward in their plush seats, waiting to learn what fate had in store for the franchise. The pundits had said it couldn’t be done—that a young team with a new coach couldn’t coalesce to advance into the postseason.

Freaking pundits. A lifetime of hockey upsets had taught Lauren not to trust them. Still, when team captain Patrick O’Doul buried a slap shot in the corner of the net, securing their victory, her breath caught in her throat. No, gasped her poor, bruised heart.

“YES!” shrieked the fans.

That’s when Lauren walked straight over to the bar at the side of the team owner’s private box and poured herself two fingers of Scotch, neat. Lifting it, Lauren drained her shot.

Not that anyone noticed her sudden affinity for whiskey. The rest of the VIPs in the room rushed over to congratulate her boss. It was a big moment for the young billionaire who owned the team. A great moment. And somewhere deep inside in her creaky soul Lauren was happy for him.

But this was a disaster for her.

Lauren forced herself to walk over and look down at the rink where the players were celebrating their victory. They’d convened into a knot of purple jerseys, rubbing helmets and slapping asses in the way of victorious athletes everywhere.

There had been a time when this team had been Lauren’s whole life.

Until the sudden, awful moment when it wasn’t anymore.

Somewhere in that clot of players down below was the one who’d turned her entire world upside down. Not only had he broken her heart, but he’d made it impossible for her to feel comfortable in the organization to which she’d devoted more than a decade of her life. For the past two years, she’d avoided this team, this rink, and everything to do with hockey.

She’d avoided the entire borough of Brooklyn, except when her boss’s business brought the two of them over the bridge for a meeting. And the moment she was free to go, Lauren always hightailed it back to Manhattan where she belonged.

But not this month.

A week ago, Nate had asked her to manage the hockey team’s office for the balance of the season. The young woman who usually did that job had suffered a concussion, and he needed someone capable to step in. Since Lauren used to do precisely that job for the team before the franchise moved to Brooklyn, she was the obvious choice. Unfortunately. And if the Bruisers hadn’t made it to the play-offs, she would have been finished with them by next week.

However.

The Scotch in Lauren’s belly fired her courage, and she glanced down at the ice again. The play-offs were composed of four seven-game series, each taking more than two weeks. The Stanley Cup wouldn’t be decided for two months.

There was no telling how far the team would go. So Lauren would have to spend at least a couple more weeks traveling with the very people she’d worked so hard to avoid. And there was no way out of it, unless she wanted to quit her job. And that wasn’t happening.

The next sound she heard was the pop of a cork. “Did it!” cried Rebecca Rowley, the woman who was supposed to be running the Bruisers’ Brooklyn office. She held a magnum of Cristal in two hands, which she now levered toward the first of a row of champagne flutes.

Lauren’s eyes narrowed at this display of joy. Miss Perky was supposedly recovering from a rather serious head injury she’d sustained by walking out onto the ice rink in her street shoes. What had seemed like a minor fall had resulted in terrible symptoms for the poor fool. She’d been absent from work for a week already, and was therefore the cause of Lauren’s sudden craving for Scotch whiskey.

But now Becca passed around glasses as if nothing in the world were wrong with her. She poured another glass as her friend Georgia—one of the team publicists—skated into the room with a grin on her face. “Press conference in ten minutes guys. Oh! Champagne.”

“Have some.” Becca handed Georgia a glass, then moved on to their boss, who gave her a hundred watt smile. “I’m so happy for you,” Becca crowed, stretching her arms around the billionaire and giving him a big friendly squeeze.

Nate looked a little stunned by the full-frontal embrace. As usual, he did a poor job of concealing his reaction to Rebecca. His arms did what they probably always wanted to do, and closed around her back. His eyes fell shut, too.

Lauren had to look away. The yearning just rose off Nate like a mist. Hell—hugging Rebecca might be as exciting to Nate as the hockey victory itself.

Rebecca pulled back a moment later, as oblivious to him as she always was. She grabbed another glass of champagne off the table and held it out to Lauren. “Champagne? I know you aren’t really a drinker but . . .”

Lauren took the glass from Miss Perky and took a gulp immediately. “Thanks.”

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