A bucolic bedroom community with easy access to Boston, only thirty miles away, West Bridgerton looked like a typical New England town as Harper Chase drove her rental car through its family friendly streets. This late, she was surprised they didn’t roll them up after dark. On her left, she passed a gazebo in War Memorial Park, on her right a steepled white church. Two Dunkin’s. No Starbucks. Farmland, a rail trail, a river, and a state forest spoke to its pastoral character.
Hard to believe a lughead of a hockey player would feel at home amid such peaceful surroundings.
The lughead in question? Remy DuPre, or Jinx, as he was better known with the Boston Cougars, a nickname earned because he was considered the unluckiest guy in the NHL. A little bird—in the form of his agent—had told her the Cajun was ragin’ about his trade out of Boston and would need a dab of soft soap to smooth his transition to the Chicago Rebels.
Harper sighed. She had never met a bigger bunch
of divas than hockey players. For all their supposed rough-and-tumble-warrior credentials, they were nothing but whiners when it came to their contracts.
She had made this trade fair and square.
Was it her fault DuPre was a bargain? Paying out the last year of his contract—a contract that should have been better negotiated by his loser agent when he came up for renewal with Boston two years ago—had cost her a pittance compared to what she’d have to pony up for someone younger. So he was thirty-five, positively elderly for hockey. And maybe his chances to go deep in a season were running out.
There’s no room for sentimentality in this game.
That was the mantra of Clifford Chase: three-time Stanley Cup champion, Hall of Famer, hockey franchise owner, notorious asshole.
And Harper’s lately departed father.
Two weeks ago the maverick owner of the Chicago Rebels had died following a massive heart attack at the age of sixty-two. A week later, Harper’s life was upended again with the reading of the will, leaving her to negotiate the rubble of her father’s final wishes for the team. Their relationship had been combative, to say the least, but she had never expected this.
Over the past decade, the Rebels, once the most popular team in the city, had become a laughingstock, named “the worst franchise in sports” by ESPN, with the second-lowest attendance in the NHL. Having made the playoffs only once in the last fifteen years—an
abysmal record considering half the teams qualify each year—the organization was also suffering through the longest championship drought in the league. Sure, they had a few good players—their poor results put them in prime position for the best draft picks—but not enough. Her father’s grip on the team had been tight enough to bruise. Harper, despite her official title of vice president, was his right-hand woman in name only.
Now they needed to rebuild. And that rebuild began with the acquisition of veteran center Remy DuPre, who could take her band of talented misfits and make them shine.
However, DuPre had decided he didn’t need to follow the rules. He didn’t need to hop on a plane within twenty-four hours of being traded and haul ass to Chicago. He didn’t even need to speak directly to Harper, as acting general manager, about his absence.
The moment Coach Calhoun had shared DuPre’s travel plans, she had called and left a message. Fortunately—for DuPre—she’d missed his returned call, so he didn’t get the full brunt of her wrath. If he truly understood how pissed she was that he had chosen not to show for practice in Chicago, surely he would not have fobbed her off with a casual “See ya for the game in Philly, Harper.”
She had played his message several times. Not because she enjoyed that syrupy New Orleans drawl that crept over her body like a thief and made every hair stand at attention.
No. She had replayed it to assure herself that she was indeed hearing the words of a man who thought he had some say in his to’ing and fro’ing. DuPre appeared to be under the impression that the Chicago Rebels’ organization did not own his ass. She was here to set him straight.
A midnight visit to his home in Massachusetts had not been part of the plan. She’d intended for this smackdown to happen earlier. Fly in. Lay down the law. Fly out. But her flight had landed late and she’d been on her way to her hotel when she decided to drive by DuPre’s house first.
She pulled into the drive of a classic Colonial—behind the eight million cars already lining the path. The steady thump of a distant bass echoed through the air. Blazing lights from the house set the October night sky aglow. All that was missing was a spotlight shooting upward announcing Here Lives Remy DuPre!
Harper’s teeth, already in danger of being ground to dust, were now set on edge. Instead of getting acquainted with his new team in Chicago, her new acquisition was throwing a party.
Sitting in the car, she considered her options. She would prefer not to get into a mud-flinging match with DuPre in front of an audience. It could wait until tomorrow. She checked her watch: 12:02 a.m.
Hockey organizations implemented strict rules about how much sleep players should be getting. Their
diets were regimented, workouts monitored, every aspect of their lives recorded to ensure they remained valuable assets to the team.
Harper had invested considerable money in DuPre, and the man was throwing a party when he should have been sleeping off a hard practice and preparing for the game against the Philadelphia Liberty in two days.
Lost in her indignation, she barely noticed that she’d left her car and reached DuPre’s front door. It rose before her, a barrier to her doing her job, and her mouth fell open at the words stenciled on the red-painted wood:
Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler
Let the good times roll, the motto of spring breakers everywhere. And Remy DuPre had it indelibly fixed to his door.
Oh, God. Panic edged across her skin, making her heart pump madly.
She had made a huge mistake.
This was not the man she needed to lead the Rebels to a top-three finish in the Central Division. She would find a way to back out of the trade. Cite irreconcilable differences, buyer’s remorse, having her GD period. Anything!
Ready to retreat, she turned away, but something popped in her chest.
The news that the Rebels had been divided up
among Clifford’s daughters like a Shakespearean tragedy was still a hot topic in the sports media. Add to that the team’s terrible start to the season—0 and 4—and the idea that a woman, or women, knew jack about running a professional hockey team was still getting plenty of airplay. Usually with jokes along the lines of:
How many women does it take to screw up a sports franchise?
Just one. But three sure is prettier.
Anger at her father evicted her panic. What had the man been thinking, leaving the team to be jointly run by a trio of estranged half sisters? Clifford had promised Harper the team. Not in so many words, no, but they had an understanding.
No one expected him to go so soon, but she had hoped he’d involve her more and would recognize the value she could add to the organization. She’d majored in sports management, interned at Rebels HQ, made damn fine coffee, given a knowing wink and a smile while her ass was ogled by her male coworkers and those horndogs on the team. She’d sat in on every negotiation from player to equipment to concessions. And yes, all the ultimate decisions came from on high, but at thirty-one years of age, she was ready. Clifford had known she was ready.
Yet he still hadn’t trusted her to do the job herself.
She steeled her spine and stood as tall as her Cole Haan wedges would allow. She should have worn the Choos, but she was practical to her core, and the Cole Haans with the Nike Air insoles were perfect for traveling.
She refused to let a dead man, two sisters who were practically strangers to her, and an overgrown frat boy named Remy DuPre dictate how she ran her team.
Who’s the boss, Harper?
You da boss!
Determination in her sway, she pivoted and searched for a doorbell. Nothing. The knocker would have to do, but as she curled her fingers around it, the door gave way like something out of an old Hammer horror film.
Of course. The good times would have a hard time rolling through a locked door.
The music increased in volume. Hoots and hollers tinged the air. She moved forward, trying to force her feet to match the indignation in her chest. A few steps more, and she wished she had gone with her first instinct and turned tail the moment she read that door inscription.
A woman was removing her clothes.
Harper hadn’t just walked into a party, she’d walked into an orgy.
Okay, cool it. It wasn’t quite as bad as all that. No one was having public sex . . . yet. But it looked increasingly likely.
A curvaceous brunette in red hot pants was in the process of peeling off a teeny-tiny top, aaaaand there it went, revealing a sparkly bra with tassels. Really? She swung those tassels like a sixties burlesque queen.
Everyone cheered. All of them men.
A blood-chilling creep frosted over Harper at the
sight of this woman surrounded by so much testosterone, powerful machines with more strength in their forearms than in that woman’s entire body.
The burlesque queen straddled a man, her body hiding his face, her obvious self-confidence a direct repudiation of Harper’s fears. The man’s massive hands, as big as ham hocks, skimmed her hips and drew her flush over muscular, jean-clad thighs.
“Tonight, Remy,” the woman said in a smoky purr, “you’re gonna get a send-off you’ll never forget.”
She raised her hands to the back snap barely containing all that flesh ready to spill forth. The cups sure did runneth over with this one. Was she actually going to—
Harper couldn’t stand it another moment. “DuPre!”
Twenty-five sets of eyes turned on her, cold, accusing. So much for slipping in under the radar.
Moving his head to the side of his “gift,” Remy DuPre raised the eyebrow of a rogue. She had never met him in the flesh, but seeing this warrior battling it out on the ice—both in person and on TV—should have prepared her. Every day in her job she dealt with mountains of muscle with the honed and sculpted bodies of gods. Some of them were good-looking. Some of them had faces only a mother or a woman looking to score with a million-dollar athlete could love.
Remy DuPre’s face compelled her attention. Not classically handsome, instead he was all brute angles and solid planes that indicated both hard work and the
ability to enjoy life. His was a lived-in face, that of a man who laughed often and knew pleasure. A sensualist.
And those piercing blue eyes, brutish hands, and tree-trunk thighs were sensualizing all over the place.
He tapped the woman’s ass once, twice, and issued a husky order. “Up, chérie.” She obeyed—of course!—turning to face Harper as she stood.
“Who the hell are you?” Tassels demanded. Really, she should be thanking Harper for putting a halt to this demeaning display.
“Chérie, don’t be rude to my guest. This is Harper.” Creases formed at the corners of DuPre’s cobalt-blue eyes. Incredibly attractive creases that reaffirmed her earlier impression of a man who enjoyed life. He nodded in her direction. “Glad you could make it.”
As if he had invited her.
At six and change, Remy towered above Harper’s five feet one and a half inches. Those hands, those thighs . . . everything about him was supersized.
“Come on back to the kitchen.” He headed off, leaving her no choice but to follow.
Suspicious eyes set in familiar Cougar faces bored into her as she marched through. Although her identity was well known, no one nodded in recognition. A basketball game on a huge wall-mounted TV riveted the attention of the crowd in one room, men so inured to strippers that they hadn’t even bothered to move next door for the show. Not even the skimpily clad women perched on the arms of sofas and armchairs could com
pete. A few tried their best, shoving surgically enhanced breasts into bearded faces, only to be met with cries of, “Baby, I’m tryin’ to watch the game!” Men.
No sign, thank God, of the one person she’d prayed would be absent.
Skipping ahead faster than her feet, her gaze collided with DuPre’s broad shoulders. Then traveled down a well-muscled back that tapered to slim hips and an ass that even Harper, who was on a strict man embargo, could appreciate. Purely from an aesthetic point of view, mind you. What woman wouldn’t like the sight of taut buns filling out a pair of jeans with such authority? She assumed DuPre worked lunges into his routine to get those perfect globes.
The bastard should be working those lunges in the workout room at Rebels HQ.
Nearing what must be the kitchen, her nostrils flared in anticipation. Something smelled wonderful—not DuPre, who probably smelled like an unwashed gym bag—but something hearty. Her stomach growled, annoyed with her for allowing it to subsist on that half-stale bagel at O’Hare seven hours ago. Don’t even try to tell her that hungry was not an emotion, because, like every woman, she felt that shit in her soul. However, the delicious scent of cooking was soon ruined by a more potent sensory experience: DuPre draped over another woman in front of the stove.
Poor guy couldn’t go more than a couple of minutes without female company, it seemed.
His tanned forearm, sprinkled with dark hair, curled around the waist of a woman in a vagina-length Cougars hockey jersey and high heels. His other hand held a wooden spoon at a tempting angle to her pouty red lips.
“Remeeee! You know I don’t do spicy.”
A low rumbled chuckle, laden with sex and menace, mocked her protest. “Now, I happen to know that’s a lie, Doreen, ’cause a little bird told me you like it plenty spicy. My mawmaw taught me how to make the perfect jambalaya and you ain’t even gonna give it a shot?” He squeezed her waist in encouragement, and she leaned in closer, brushing her breast against DuPre’s substantial chest. Harper could almost hear the sigh of pleasure Doreen’s hormones released at that touch.
Time to get down to business. Harper coughed. And went unnoticed.
This rarely happened to her.
Both of them turned, Doreen’s pirouette guaranteeing she touched an entire hectare of boobage against Remy’s thick bicep. DuPre’s expression was one of mild annoyance that Harper was still here.
“Doreen, go see if the boys are hungry. Tell ’em we got po’ boys and jambalaya.”
With a world-class pout, Doreen tottered out.
“You hungry, Harper?” DuPre asked with that lazy-as-shit drawl. She didn’t like the flutter in her belly
when he said her name. Know what else she didn’t like? His inky-dark eyelashes, almost as though someone had painted them on around those blue eyes. Harper was immediately suspicious of a man with prettier eyelashes than her.
“No,” she lied.
He ladled a serving of jambalaya into a bowl. “Surprised to see you here.”
“You’re on my dime, now, Mr. DuPre.”
“Call me Remy. Didn’t you get my message? I told you I’d meet up with the team in Philly.” He gestured with the bowl, and at her moue of discontent, he grabbed a fork. In a display that threatened to turn her annoyance into apoplectic, hangry levels, he teased a piece of shrimp in rice and raised it to his lips. After a chew, a swallow, and a look of near ecstasy that had Harper’s mouth watering—because she was hungry, she insisted—he spoke again.
“The boys wanted to throw me a party, so I figured one more day wouldn’t hurt. Been here a long time.”
She knew that. Five years was an age in hockey, which by its very nature required men to be ready to upend their lives at a moment’s notice as soon as a trade came in. DuPre had been traded six times since he was the number one draft pick seventeen years ago. His file said he’d never married, had never even come close, so he wouldn’t have the comfort of a wife or girlfriend to smooth over his move to Chicago. Unless Tassels or Doreen had her bags packed . . .
“It’s important you bond with the team sooner than later. There’s no time to waste.”
“Not sure what you’re expecting here, Harper.” The easy tease that had laced his voice was gone. His accent was punchier than she remembered from postgame TV interviews, Brooklyn by way of the Bayou. “You could have brought on anyone.”
“I need a leader. Someone who’s seen everything and can make something of—”
“Nothing? You need a miracle. It’s gonna take two years to rebuild. Minimum. You need money, because good players don’t come cheap. You need patience.”
Patience was for winners. She would lose everything if she didn’t employ drastic measures, because not only had her father screwed her over by not leaving her the team to run solo, he’d put another obstacle in her path. A time-sensitive requirement.
“I’ve been patient.”
“Would it have killed you to exercise that patience for another year? Because your lack of it has fucked me over royally. You saw how close we came in May. The Cougars have the makings of a dynasty, and I planned to inaugurate it this season. What you’ve done is rip that chance out of my hands.” He slapped the bowl down on the counter with a bang.
Harper jumped, an involuntary reaction to his little temper tantrum. It was nothing, of course. Understandable, even. Every day she watched men fight over a rubber disc, violence seething from their pores, but
she had always kept her distance from the players. She knew that would be impossible as acting GM. That she was going to have to face her deep-seated fears about being up close and personal with war-making machines that could break a woman in half.
Those demons set to gnawing in her chest, so she inhaled a deep breath and used an old therapy trick: act normal until the panic “gets bored.” She looked around. Normal, even homey, kitchen. Normal stockpot on the normal stove. Normal employee with normal muscles and normal . . . hair. Pretty awesome hair, actually. Mahogany brown and perfectly mussed, but not trying too hard. So many hockey players wore their hair long—salads, they called it—but not Remy DuPre. No straggle for him, just enough on top to allow for a decent finger rake. Not that she was in the market for a decent finger rake.
The monsters went silent.
Well done, DuPre. Your awesome hair has just helped fight off my imminent panic attack.
He was watching her curiously. “Okay there, Harper?”
She squared her shoulders. “I’m fine. Just tired after my flight was delayed, the one I shouldn’t have had to take at all. I want you in Chicago tomorrow, and you’ll fly out with the team on Thursday. You won’t be swanning in like some diva in Philly. This isn’t how it’s going to work. You’re a Rebel now, and you play by my rules.”