THE INTERNET SUCKS
Jade brings the bottle of wine from the kitchen and refills my wine glass while peering down at the screen of my phone. “Stop torturing yourself.”
“It doesn’t even look like him. Seriously. Would you have known this guy was Leo?” I hold up the Wildcats roster photo of him. His hair is shorter, and his eyes are wide, like someone startled him seconds before they took the photo. I’ve never seen a more perfect “deer in headlights” impression.
My best friend drops into a chair across from me in the living room. I’m hiding out inside, trying to convince myself that I don’t care, Leo, my hot Leo, is actually Leo Lohan, Wildcats star forward, and currently in the back yard of my family home.
“You know I don’t follow sports, but he does look better in person.”
I groan, drop my phone, and bury my head in my hands.
Her voice is the calm to the chaos raging inside of me. “Do you think he really would have called and asked you out again?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. We’ll never know now. I blocked him.”
“You blocked him? Why?”
I slump back into the couch. I haven’t blocked him yet, but I’m seriously considering it. “He plays hockey for my dad. He’s a professional athlete. He lied. Pick a reason.”
“Lied is a bit of a stretch.”
I glare, and she snorts a laugh.
“Sure, now that he knows who I am, he can’t stop thinking about me and wants to see me again. Where was all of this a week ago when I was still hoping he might call?” No one is so busy they can’t find a second to text. I replay his words earlier and try to make them line up with the facts. He was full of sweet words, but was it all just to save his ass?
“So, are you mad because he plays hockey for your dad and seeing him again would be complicated or because he didn’t text when he said he would?”
The back patio door opens, and I lower my voice to keep our conversation private. “I don’t know. Both. Why?”
Her gaze lifts, and she looks behind me over my head. “Because he just walked in.”
I hold my breath as his footsteps approach. He stands in the space beside me. I don’t look directly at him, but I know it’s him. I hate that after only one night together, my body is so tuned to his. Goosebumps race up my left side where he stands closest.
“I’m going to go… anywhere else.” Jade gets to her feet.
Neither of us speaks in the time it takes Jade to cross the room and exit the same way he came in. I’m too agitated to sit, so I stand and move to the kitchen with my wine. He follows.
“What are you doing in here?” I ask. I finally look at him and then wish I hadn’t. He skipped the hat today, and his light brown hair sticks up like he might have been running his fingers through it recently. He’s dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt, but even so, he looks every bit as good as I remember. His roster photo really doesn’t do him justice.
“We need to finish talking.”
“I don’t have anything else to say to you, Leo Lohan.”
“Maybe I have something to say to you, Scarlett Miller.” His lips turn up, and that dimple in his left cheek appears.
The look on his face reminds me of the night we spent together. How fun and easy it all felt. But nothing about this is easy. I’m not going to fall at the feet of another athlete who knows how to turn on the charm to get his way.
“Save it. I’m not interested.”
“Why not?” His brows pull together. “I thought we had fun the other night.”
“Your dad being the coach isn’t ideal,” he admits, like that’s the only reason I’m not falling over myself with excitement to see him again.
“Do you even go to college, or do you just hang at the campus bars trolling for girls?”
“I went pro after my sophomore year, but I’ve been working on finishing my degree. I took a couple of classes this summer, and I’m enrolled in one this fall. The guys I was with the other night are buddies from my summer class.”
“Do they know you’re… you?” I flick a hand in his direction.
One side of his mouth quirks with a hint of a smile. “Yeah.”
I drop my wine glass to the counter and cross my arms over my chest. “Why didn’t you tell me? If you really had no idea who I was, then why not tell me? If not at the bar, then at least when I was at your house. It is your house, right?”
He drops his head and pushes his hands down the front pockets of his jeans. “I guess I liked spending time with someone who wasn’t interested in what I do more than who I am. And when we got to my place, and you went off on how you didn’t care that I lived with my parents because you did…”
I groan as I remember my heartfelt speech. I meant every word, and it turns out I spewed all my baggage, thinking we had something in common. “You still should have told me. I feel like an idiot.”
In two long strides, he closes the distance between us. His voice is deep and low as he says, “You’re not an idiot. You’re smart and funny, and I’ve been thinking about how gorgeous you look when you come for a solid week.”
I breathe in his words like helium. My throat tightens, and my chest expands. My skin tingles as I remember how it felt to be kissed by him, touched by him.
“We have a busy week, and we’re traveling next weekend, but we have a home game the following week.”
I give him my best “duh, I know” glare.
“Right. You probably know the schedule.” His mouth pulls into a tight smile. “After home games, we usually go to a bar called Wild’s. It’s a couple of blocks from the arena. Meet me there and let me make it up to you for not calling sooner.”
It would be so easy to give in. It would feel good. I know it. My body freaking knows it, too. Every nerve ending crackles with desire. Easy and good, but also dumb.
Ignoring the heavy thrum of my heart, I step back. “I’m not interested, Leo Lohan.”
The next morning I’m in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal while I replay yesterday like a horror movie. Leo freaking Lohan. Of all the guys to go home with, I would pick the one that’s totally off limits to me. I’m a freaking mess.
Mom’s voice cuts through my thoughts. “Can you run this to your dad at the arena on your way to class? The man was going to wear a suit from the nineteen nineties in his team photo.” She groans and lays the garment bag over the chair beside me.
The seemingly simple request sends panic pulsing up my spine and I sit straight. “I can’t.”
Mom fills her travel mug with coffee and grabs her lunch bag from the fridge before she responds. A wrinkle forms between her brows. “Why not?”
I don’t come up with an answer quickly enough because I don’t have a good excuse.
She cocks her head to the side. “Please? I cannot bear the thought of your father being the worst-dressed NHL coach two years running. I’ll never live down the shame.”
“Worst-dressed coach?” I ask. “That’s a thing?”
“I believe the exact words of the online article were, That suit belongs in the dumpster along with the Wildcats post-season performance.”
“Man, the internet sucks.” Except for odd animal friendship videos and military members reuniting with family. Those can stay.
“Well, they aren’t wrong, at least about the suit.” She has her hands full but comes around to lean in and place a kiss on my forehead.
“I don’t even know where his office is.” It’s true. I haven’t been to visit Dad at work since I’ve been back. It wasn’t intentional. At least not until twenty-four hours ago.
“You’re a smart girl, Scarlett Marie. I’m confident that you’ll figure it out. See you tonight.”
I take my time finishing my cereal, then shower and get ready. The extra effort I put into my hair, makeup, and outfit is entirely unrelated to the possibility of running into the hockey player I’m hell-bent on avoiding. Completely unrelated.
At the arena, I walk through the front doors, and a security guard ushers me to a sign-in desk.
“Name and purpose of your visit?” A woman asks without looking up from her computer.
“Scarlett Miller. I’m here to make sure Coach Miller doesn’t commit a crime of fashion.” I lift my arm to show off the garment bag as her eyes slowly glance up from her screen to me.
I can’t tell if she believes me or not—she has the piercing, take no shit gaze of a woman who takes her job seriously—but I’m eventually guided to an elevator and down to a lower level by a security guard who whistles lightly the whole way.
“Let’s check his office first,” the guard says. “If he’s not there, then he’ll be on the ice.”
I nod like I know. But I don’t. Not anymore. It’s one of those things that I knew had changed since I’d left for London two years ago, but until now, I didn’t realize that meant I didn’t know how he spent his day in the same way I used to.
Dad was still coaching at the junior hockey level then. I’d occasionally pop in to have lunch or just to see him. It was nothing like this. Everything about this place is bigger and nicer.
The guard in front of me stops in a doorway while I’m still admiring the massive hallway with its green paint that smells like it was recently done, the framed photos of players and coaches, and the light music playing over speakers in the hall—Taylor Swift, which for some reason makes me smile.
“Your daughter is here to see you, Coach.”
“My daughter?” Dad’s voice snaps me back to my purpose for being here, and I walk through his office door.
“What are you doing here?” He smiles behind a messy desk stacked with papers, so many papers, along with stick tape, hockey pucks, a brown banana, and those are just the things visible. Who knows what’s buried underneath?
“Mom sent me.” I hang the bag on an open filing cabinet and unzip it.
“Thanks, Mick.” He waves to the guard and then loosens the brown and white tie he’s wearing, walking toward the mom-approved outfit without a word of complaint. That is true love. Or twenty-seven years of experience telling him that changing his shirt and jacket are easier than listening to Mom gripe.
I take a seat behind his desk in a big, worn leather chair that I know for sure he had at the last place. It creaks as I lean back.
“They couldn’t spring for a new chair?” I spin around in it. “Or a maid.” I lift the banana and toss it into the wastebasket, which is empty, so maybe they do clean in here.
“I’ve had that chair for fifteen years. It’s lucky.” He winks and goes about switching his shirt and tie.
I move a few items on his desk and uncover a sandwich that definitely shouldn’t be eaten and another ugly brown tie that Mom would probably pay me to make disappear for good.
“How do you work in here?”
“It isn’t usually this bad.” He takes out the jacket and pulls it on, grimacing as he rolls his shoulders and shifts to get comfortable. “Anna needed to take some time off to visit her family in Michigan.”
“Who’s Anna?” I stand and straighten his tie.
“I don’t remember you being this disorganized at the last place.”
“It’s been busy with camp and practices. I’ll get to it eventually.”
A phone rings from somewhere on his desk. I stifle a laugh as he rummages around until he pulls the receiver free and answers.
“I’ll be right there.” He fidgets some more with his tie after he hangs up. “Look okay?”
“Yep, and now I have fulfilled my daughterly obligations.”
“You don’t want to come check it out? Media day is pretty impressive. Lots of fancy cameras and photography equipment.”
My eyes light up, and he grins like he knew the mention of cameras would have me following him down a hallway and into a tunnel that eventually leads to the ice. A quick look, and then I’m out of here.
On the ice, a big green backdrop is setup, and in front of it, another man in a suit sits on a stool, smiling as a woman snaps pictures of him. She moves from left to right, to center, capturing every angle. They have music going and lots more people with cameras and video equipment mill around the ice.
Eventually she has him stand and takes more photos that way, then has him don a Wildcat hat and takes a few more.
Dad sneaks a glance over his shoulder to check my expression. The buzz of excitement that’s worked its way into the very core of my being must be radiating from me because he smiles and says, “This is just for the coaches. Once the players get here, the real fun starts.”
At his name, Dad and I both look up to see the man on the stool has vacated his seat, and the photographer is walking toward us with a friendly smile.
“Lindsey, this is my daughter Scarlett,” Dad says, adjusting the cuffs on one sleeve.
“Hey. Nice to meet you,” she says. She removes the camera from around her neck and hands it to someone else. “Are you ready for us, Coach?”
“Yeah. Let’s get this over with.” He messes with his tie. If they manage to capture a photo with the thing not crooked, I will be amazed.
“Great. Give me two minutes.” She starts off the ice with a bounce to her step that makes her short blonde hair sway around her head, then stops. “Oh, hey. Do you have the schedule for the rest of today and through the week? Anna mentioned there were a few changes. She was going to email it over, but…”
“Right.” Dad frowns. “It’s probably on her iPad, but I think she printed me a copy.”
Green catches my eye on the other side of the bench, and I glance over in time to see the first players arriving. Three of them huddle together in their full uniforms. I don’t see Leo’s head, but I pull my gaze away so quickly, I can’t be sure he isn’t among them.
“I’ll grab the paper,” I say, a little too eager.
Dad’s forehead crinkles as his brows lift, but he nods. “It’s on the desk. If you can’t find it, bring the iPad. It’ll be on there somewhere.”
“I’ve got this,” I say with far more confidence than I feel the second I step back into the tunnel. I’m not even sure I can find his office again, let alone a single sheet of paper on his disaster of a desk.
When I get to the end of the tunnel, I pause and look left and right, then left again. More green jerseys are headed this way from my right, so I gamble and go left.
Dad’s office isn’t that hard to find, thank goodness, and I start sifting through the piles of paper. I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but Lindsey said it was a schedule, so I look for dates and times.
As I work, I stack the piles neatly and throw away more spoiled food. Gross, Dad, seriously.
I finally find what I’m looking for. Two pages stapled together with the word ‘schedule’ and this week’s date on it. I hold it up and kiss it, then remember it was on a desk with old food.
I start toward the door, but a mass of green fills the escape route. A very handsome mass.
“Coach—” Leo stops with his hand up like he was about to knock on the open door. Two very long seconds pass before he speaks my name. “Scarlett.”
He starts to smile, but my horrified expression must scare it off his handsome face.
I hold up the paper to indicate why I’m in here, but don’t speak. I’m incapable of forming words as I take him in, all six feet and two inches of him covered in padding and wearing skates that make his already big frame mammoth.
He takes a step closer at the same time I do, then we both stop.
“What are you doing here?” His deep voice snaps me out of the trance.
“Finding a schedule. Coach is on the ice.” I try to brush past him, but he steps in front of me.
“I’m glad I ran into you. I wanted to clear the air.”
“I already told you I won’t tell my dad.” Talk about an awkward conversation with dear old dad. He can’t really think I’d be eager to share the details of my one-night stand.
“Thank you, but that isn’t it. You and I are bound to run into one another, and there’s no reason it should be weird between us.”
“You mean except for the fact we’ve seen each other naked?” I ask in a hushed tone.
His mouth curves up. “Except that.”
I fight the flush climbing up my neck from standing this close to him. “Like I told you yesterday, I’m not interested in a repeat. It was just one night. Zero weirdness coming from me.”
He studies my face without speaking. The office is quiet. Way too quiet. Noise in the hallway gets louder, and Leo finally steps back, and I can breathe again. “Perfect. Zero weirdness.”