Hunched over her desk, the end of a pen between her teeth and Michael Buble crooning over her stereo, Jacey stared at long list of press requests and PR opportunities. The abbreviated season didn’t just mean a game every other day. It meant squeezing in all of the usual public team events into a tighter schedule too. Despite the soothing music, her nerves were shot, so when Madden opened the door and strode in, she nearly jumped out of her skin. The pen clattered to the floor, and she pressed a hand over her heart.
“I knocked, but you couldn't hear me," her brother and assistant yelled over the music before turning it down. “There's something you need to see.”
Those words were never good. Reflex fear coursed through her on the tails of the adrenaline shot from the sudden interruption. What now? “I can't; there's too much to get done before the game tomorrow.”
“Trust me...you're gonna wanna see this.”
Jacey frowned at the cryptic tone, but curiosity got the best of her. With a sigh, she pushed back out of her seat and followed Madden out of the office and down the hall. They took the stairs down a floor and stopped at the door to the press box. “What's going on?”
Madden flashed that irritating, I-know-something-you-don’t-know smile. “Take a deep breath.”
“Just do it.”
Warily, she inhaled, and before she could exhale, her brother swung the door open. Jacey's breath rushed out with the impact of what she saw. Numb with awe, she shuffled up to the glass overlooking the ice. Down below, hockey pucks were arranged into the shape of a giant heart. Carter Phlynn stood in the middle, hands in his jean pockets and a pleased smile on his face.
“Oh my God.”
“What's he thinking?”
“That you're sappy enough to fall for this.”
Jacey turned on her heel and strode out of the room to the elevator. On her way down to the concourse level, all she could do was shake her head. She was still shaking her head as she descended the arena steps and stepped inside the players' box.
Carter's proud grin widened and he spread his arms, presenting his gift. “What do you think?”
“I think that check you took last night rattled something loose.”
“Then why are you smiling?”
Jacey opened her mouth, but her reply stuck in her throat. Was she smiling? Yep. Damn.
Carter's expression turned satisfied. “Come here.”
“Come. Here.” His tone was playful, teasing. His hazel eyes danced with mischief. “This was only the first half of your present.”
Jacey narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “What's the second half?”
“I show you how to sink a slap shot.”
“I...I'm wearing heels.”
“I'll help.” He jogged over, picked up a stick that'd been leaning against the glass and held his hand out to her. She blinked, trying to think of a reason why not, but came up empty. Even as his calloused fingers curled into her palm, an excuse was bubbling in her throat, but just wouldn't come out. She stepped out onto the ice, gripping Carter's hand tight enough to break bones. On skates she could maneuver the rink just fine, but in four-inch pumps, not so much.
Baby steps. Baby steps. Baby—Whoa!
She flailed as her tractionless shoes slipped, and she was on her way down when a strong arm snaked around her waist and tugged her upright.
“Careful, I got ya.”
Jacey was torn between anger for him dragging her out there and the supremely divine sensation of the hard, warm muscle under his thermal shirt. His arm stayed around her as they stepped inside the heart and up to the blue line. He snagged one of the pucks with the blade of the stick and pulled her around in front of him, her back pressed to his solid chest. She closed her eyes and released a slow breath. The arm around her waist tugged her to fit closer against him, and a hot flash shot through her like a firecracker. Her eyes darted up to the press box, which was—thankfully—empty.
“I don't think—”
“No thinking required, Boss. That's the beauty of the slap shot.” He positioned her hands on the stick and covered them with his own. “Okay, we're going to draw it back...” His hips cocked to the right and took hers along with them as he lifted their arms out to the side. “Then focus all of your aggression, all of your energy on hitting the puck, and swing through.” Quick enough to pull a muscle, he brought their arms down in a sweeping arc, and fired the puck into the net. It was so fast that she didn't even see it happen, only heard the thwack! of contact.
His rough cheek lightly scraped against hers, and she felt him smile, his lips nearly brushing her jaw as he spoke in a low, soft voice. “See? You're hooked.”
Oh, yes she was.
Carter got another puck and repeated the process. Jacey was out of breath by the time that they'd shot half of the heart into the net. Smiling, she said, “Why do I think this present was more for you than for me?”
“I'd say it's a win-win situation. You get a little more appreciation for the game, and I get an excuse to haul you up against me like this.”
He didn’t need an excuse. He also didn’t need to know that. She turned her head sharply and found that playful smile centimeters from her own. They were nose to nose, and her heart knocked against her ribs.
“Happy Valentines Day, Jace.”