Chapter One: The Rebound

Saint

 

When Coach Wilder asks you to stick around after practice with his permanent stink-eye cranked up to full power, you stick around.

Even if there’s a hot girl waiting for you at a high-end bar just a short drive away. Even if her open-minded best friend is there too, and you’ve all made arrangements to party back at your place after a couple of drinks. Ménage à trois pending.

No, you forget all that, shower fast, change, and get your ass to your coach’s office in all of ten minutes.

With a couple of minutes to spare, I’m towel-drying my hair when my phone buzzes. My cracked screen shows I have three messages.

thanks for calling ahead and opening your tab babe.

u really are a saint :)

cece and i just ordered shots. hurryyyy

Grinning, I take a low-angle photo of my glistening abs and attach it to my response.

just showering for you babes ;) be there soon

“Are you seriously sexting right now?”

I look up to find our starting center, Alex Braun, doing what he does best. Judging me.

Stashing my phone in my pocket, I resist the urge to roll my eyes. “When demand is high, I gotta supply. Oh shit, that rhymes. Think I should get it tattooed on my ass? You’re the expert of ass tattoos, aren’t you?”

Alex scowls at me, but a grin widens across his face before he can help it.

The poor bastard lost a bet with me last year and now has a heart-eyed emoji on his left ass cheek. I’d say he definitely got the better end of the deal, seeing how he’ll be marrying the woman that I bet he’d fall for. He gets the gorgeous Aspen on his arm for the rest of his life, and I get to make fun of him for the rest of mine. It’s a win-win situation.

“Such a player,” is all he can manage to say back, shoving my shoulder not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to make me lose my balance.

Why do people call me a player? So what if I want to enjoy my life and have fun . . . how is that playing games? Sex positivity is a thing, and I enjoy the hell of it.

I pull a Boston Titans T-shirt on over my head before heading out of the locker room and down the hall toward Coach Wilder’s office. My back’s been bugging me lately, and I’m sure he’s noticed it affecting my posture on the ice. I’m not sure how I pulled it, but it could have something to do with my most recent blackout adventure at the club . . . which, I’ll admit, wasn’t my finest moment.

It’s not like I make it a habit of letting my social life interfere with my work. I’d even argue that my work-life balance is pretty damn healthy. After all, hockey isn’t a sport for athletes who can’t commit to excellence. The game is brutal and the rules are strict—so strict, in fact, that I can’t be bothered to follow any other rules in life. I give my one hundred percent to the team, and the rest of it? You guessed it. Fast cars, eager women, and enough cash in my pocket to bribe the bouncer. Gotta let loose somehow, right?

I knock on Coach’s cracked-open door, interrupting a hushed conversation inside. “Whoa, the party is in here,” I say jokingly, misreading the room.

No one laughs. Tough crowd doesn’t even begin to cover it. Coach is flanked on both sides by our team captain, Walker Reeves, and the Boston Titans’ owner, Eden Wynn.

Coach and Reeves look up with blank expressions, but Eden narrows her eyes at me. She’s never really liked me, seeing as I’m tight with her ex, Ass-Tattoo Alex. The two of them are all good now, but she’s still not my biggest fan. Probably blames me for the team’s poor public image, now that Alex has renounced his bad-boy ways in favor of being a total bore.

“I’ll leave you three to it,” she says, giving Coach Wilder a pointed look before breezing by me without so much as a greeting.

I must be in some pretty deep shit.

A smirk twitches at the corner of my mouth. Who am I kidding? I love a little trouble.

“Take a seat, Saint.” Coach’s voice is stern, but no more than it usually is. The man needs a vacation, and I’m not the first to say it.

On my way to the chair, I spot a small stack of paper sitting in the printer tray. From the obnoxious header logo of the one on top, I can already tell what this conversation is gonna be about—I’ve hit my bad-behavior quota this month, and it’s time to lay low. At least until next month.

“You can probably guess what this is about,” Coach says with a weary sigh. The man’s not much older than any of us, but the stress of the job is already painting strands of silver in his hair. Poor guy. He’s the youngest coach in the league, so he’s got a lot to prove.

“I haven’t been keeping up with the tabloids,” I say with a sly grin, scratching my chin. “What’d I do this time?”

Reeves really doesn’t like that response. He picks up the stack of papers and tosses them on the desk in front of me. I flip through the headlines, waiting for them to spark memories.

Spotted Shirtless at the Sinclair: Price St. James Goes Wild

Saint or Sinner? Exotic Dancer Tells All About Night Out with Boston Titans Defenseman

Hockey Player Crowd Surfs at Club

That last one rings a bell, and I have some bruising on my back to prove it. Honestly, I’m a little impressed with myself.

I chew on my smile, hiding it behind an amused frown. “Pretty cool that they’re all different.”

Reeves glares at me, shaking his head in disbelief. “No, Saint. Not cool. Not cool at all.”

Looks like Coach isn’t the only one in need of a little rest and relaxation. Reeves disappears to Mexico for about a month every summer to surf, and I hope for all of our sakes he’s getting on a plane as soon as this meeting ends and our summer officially begins.

“I mean, it’s the off-season. Can’t you cut me some slack?”

“This,” Reeves says, waving the papers, “is what happens when we ‘cut you some slack.’ So, no. We can’t. This shit has to stop.”

“I know, I know. I’ll cool it, okay?”

“You’re gonna do a whole lot more than just cool it.” Reeves chuckles humorlessly. “Consider yourself on probation.”

“Probation? From what, living?”

Reeves rolls his eyes and throws his hands in the air.

Okay, I’m a little pissed now. If Reeves wants a fight, I’m more than happy to give him one. The guy has had it out for me since day one. We’re polar opposites. If life were an amusement park, I’d be the guy who heads straight for the biggest, steepest ride as soon as I walk through the gates, fast pass in hand. Reeves? I doubt he’d pull the stick out of his ass long enough to even enjoy the teacups.

Coach Wilder stares me down. “We’re tired of the stories, Saint. Every day it’s something new. We’ve got donors calling us, complaining. Your actions don’t only affect you—they affect the whole team. But you’ll be dealt the worst of it. Sooner or later, you’re gonna find yourself strapped with a lawsuit, or worse? Injured. Because you can’t seem to just get drunk anymore. You have to get reckless too. It’s too much.”

I sink back into the chair, wincing when my back twinges.

Maybe he has a point. Maybe I’ve been partying too hard lately. Maybe it’s because all my friends are getting hitched, and every engagement party I have to attend makes me want to crawl out of my skin. Maybe I’m panicking.

My expression turns serious. “Okay, I’ll get it under control. No more headlines.”

Reeves cuts in. “Seriously, Saint. One more and you’re suspended.”

When I shoot a wide-eyed look at Coach, he nods solemnly. Dammit.

Coach pinches the bridge of his nose and lets out a long sigh. “This is serious, Saint. Keep a low profile this summer. No trouble for the team. Got it?”

“Fine,” I force out between gritted teeth. “Is there anything else?”

“That’s it.” Coach sighs again. “See you tomorrow.”

Tomorrow is our dressing room clean-out and an optional workout. I didn’t really plan on coming in, but I guess I am now.

Abruptly, I stand, letting the chair screech against the linoleum floor before I make my quick exit. I don’t even bother closing the door behind me.

My gut burns at the memory of Reeves’s smug expression, his self-righteous indignation. What a fucking asshole. On top of all this shit, now I gotta force myself to play nice with the captain, who hates me now more than ever? Great.

When I round the corner, I spot Alex and Tate heading toward the exit, and call out, “Hold up.”

• • •

Thirty minutes later, Alex, Tate, and I are crowded together in a booth at the nearest bar. The beer in front of me glistens like heavenly nectar, but I leave it untouched. I’ve lost my taste for it, still reeling from the meeting.

“They want me to live like a monk.” I clench my fists under the table. I haven’t been this pissed in . . . I don’t even know how long. Adding insult to injury is that I’m missing out on the company of two women tonight.

Alex shakes his head. “That’s rough, man.” He’s been on the other side of that desk more times than me. He gets it.

“Maybe it’ll be good for you,” Tate says. They are words I really don’t want to hear.

The rookie is a good guy, too good for my liking. Ever since he returned from a trip to Colorado with a brand-new wife in tow, he doesn’t even come out much with us anymore.

I scoff at him, dipping my fingers in my beer and flicking them in his direction. “Some of us have a pulse, rookie.”

“Dude.”

Alex rolls his eyes, tossing Tate a napkin. “Chill, Saint. He’s right. You could use a break. No girls. No parties. Just hockey. It can only do good things for your career. That’s what you want, right?”

Spoken like a true reformed playboy. Alex’s career definitely hit its stride when he realigned his priorities, I’ll give him that. It should be what I want too.

But me? A life without the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, would be disastrous for my sanity. Every man has his outlet, and mine is being with people, new people, in exciting scenarios. Extrovert—that’s what my mom would call me. That reminds me, I need to call her. I missed our chat last Sunday.

Sometimes my personality gets me in some pretty crazy spots. But that’s part of the fun, right?

“Anyone in there?”

Alex lightly smacks the back of my head, and it’s like my thoughts tumble right out of my skull and onto the table so I can see them clearly. It’s a bad situation, and the guys are just trying to help me make the most of it. I can’t fault them for that.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re right,” I mutter, begrudgingly agreeing. What else is there to do? I’ve gotta play nice with the captain now.

“So, are you really going on the straight and narrow?” Tate shoots me a mocking look. “Should we be making bets for how fast you fail?”

Alex peers at me over the lip of his glass of beer, then shakes his head at Tate. “Nah, no bets. Just support.”

Gratitude swells in my chest. This asshole. He’s a better man than me, that’s for certain.

I treat him to a grin. “Thanks, man.”

“Anytime.” He smiles back.

The guys finish their beers and do the whole act like they’re not excited to go home to their adoring women, saying some “ball and chain” nonsense. I see right through that horseshit. Alex adores his fiancée, Aspen, and Tate and Summer are like a couple of heart-eyed emojis whenever they see each other.

I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever get suckered into a relationship someday. Will it be a gradual discovery, like with Alex and Aspen? Or a whirlwind of emotions, like Tate and Summer? Both scenarios sound pretty damn unlikely for me. Especially since that’s the last thing I’m looking for right now.

I step outside to find my car, pulling my phone out of my pocket to check the time. My phone buzzes with about a thousand missed messages and phone calls.

Fuck. Looks like I forgot to text my hot date and her open-minded best friend, Cece, about the change of plans.

The messages are a mix of confusion, anger, and eventually just a slew of drunk, blurry photos to prove what a good time they’re having without me. I don’t even want to know how much they put on my tab. I guess I’ll find out when the bar bills my ass.

After sending an apology text and calling the bar to put a cap on my tab, I pocket my phone and take a deep, sobering breath.

All things considered, taking a break from the fast lane to enjoy a gentle cruise might not be the worst thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been on the merry-go-round of life long enough to make anyone else dizzy. Time to stop and enjoy the view.

Let’s hope I don’t lose my mind in the meantime.


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