Anatomy of a Player (Taking Shots #2)(11)


by Cindi Madsen

Definitely something intriguing…

I reached up to work the straps free on my pads. “I think I might be just the person to show her how to have a good time.”

Dane laughed—a little too hard. “Maybe if you weren’t too busy acting like a brooding vampire lately.”

I smacked the back of his head and he laughed again.

“He does have a point,” Ryder said.

“You, too, Ox? You guys should know better than to bet against me when it comes to the ladies.”

The three of us fell silent as the girl walked over to us, her movements stiff. There was something almost familiar about her features, but I couldn’t place them. She might’ve been in one of my classes before—maybe she could help me out of my current failing sitch, and I could kill two birds with one stone.

Only, when our eyes met, something deep inside my gut stirred. Her lips parted as her eyebrows drifted up, but then her jaw clenched, erasing whatever other emotion had almost taken hold. There was something else there in her features, too—a hint of panic, maybe?

I’d show my boys how easy it was to charm the girl. “Hey, sweetheart,” I said, flashing her a big grin. “I’m Hudson Decker.”

She eyed my extended hand, disdain clear on her features. “Listen up, Hudson Decker. I don’t answer to ‘sweetheart.’ My name is Whitney Porter—if you need to write it down, go ahead, I can wait. But then I’m going to ask you a few questions, and I expect the same professional courtesy you’d give a male reporter. Got it?”

Holy shit, she looked like a timid mouse but had the attitude of a pit bull set on my destruction. What had I ever done to her?

Dane and Ox snickered, getting a big ol’ kick out of it.

“So, ready to try again?” she asked.

I should walk away—I didn’t need to do interviews for the college paper. But then I looked into those fiery blue eyes, and I couldn’t quite convince myself to move, even though I swore she was trying to fry me where I stood.

“Go ahead and ask your questions, then,” I said with a shrug, like I couldn’t care less either way. Which was pretty close to the truth.

“So you play…?” Her gaze dipped to the paper in her hand.

“Left winger.”

“Right. During the game I was paying more attention to numbers,” she said. Then a flicker of doubt crossed her face, a tiny crack in her composure that I wanted to force wide open.

“Well, if you want my number, I’d happily give it to you.”

Her jaw went rigid again, the crack sealed up, and every inch of her radiated a don’t-fuck-with-me vibe. Man, this was more fun than I’d had in weeks—sad, but that was the truth, and I wanted to keep playing.

I pointed at my chest even though all I had on were my pads and plain white T-shirt now. “Nineteen. That’s my number.”

She gave me a tight smile. “Let’s talk other numbers. You guys beat Harvard by twelve points, their one goal barely saving them from a total shut out. How’d it feel to win by such a huge margin?”

“Awesome.”

“Awesome.” She scribbled it down in her notebook. “Very impressive verbal skills, Number Nineteen. I think I’m going to go see if any of your teammates have a better grasp of the English language.”

The slack jaws of the guys closest to me made it clear they’d heard the insult. I finished removing my pads while she circled the room. When she was on the other side, Dane straddled the bench, facing me.

“Refresh my memory,” he said, and I knew whatever came next was going to make me want to punch him. “Was it you who said you could get that girl to loosen up?”

“I think he said something about showing her how to have a good time,” Ryder added from my other side. “He just didn’t know it’d be at his expense.”

“Whatever. I could get that girl.”

“Bro, you tried,” Dane said, giving me a falsely sympathetic look. “You failed. First the TA in your class, and now this? Maybe you’re losing your touch.”

I flipped him off, but a small part of me worried it was true. I’d felt off in general ever since the phone call from my mom. First school, which I’d always sucked at balancing with hockey, but short-term, mutually-beneficial fun was one area where I usually excelled. I needed the release, not to mention the proof that my entire life wasn’t morphing back to what it used to be.

“Nah,” said Ryder. At first I thought he was coming to my defense, then he added, “That girl’s just out of your league, not to mention hell-bent on proving she’s not here to try to date the hockey players. You didn’t stand a chance, even before she talked to you.”

Most of the guys had gone to hit the showers, and the hot, steamy water was calling my name, too. But my pride wouldn’t let me leave it alone. “A little time, and I could get that girl to change her tune.”

“Care to make it more fun with a wager?” Dane asked.

A prickling sensation worked its way across my neck, warning me this was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help myself. I had a rep to keep up, and it was especially important now, so that all the shit in my life wouldn’t rise up for everyone to see. “By the end of the semester, I’ll have slept with that girl. If you want to lose money on a bet, be my guest.”

“I was thinking about making it more interesting than money. If you fail, I get your signed Lundqvist jersey.”

Keeping my expression neutral wasn’t easy, but I held it in place. I’d gotten that jersey at a Rangers game on the very same day I’d found out that I’d landed a full-ride to play hockey at Boston College. Lucky days didn’t come along very often, especially when I’d lived in New York, and that jersey represented a future I never thought I’d have a chance at, both with college and a possible hockey career. It was my most prized possession, which Dane damn well knew. But backing down was never my strong suit.

“Fine. But if I win, you owe me five-hundred bucks and you attend the final hockey party with my name and number painted on your face and torso as proof that I’m superior at hockey and with the ladies.” There. Now he’d have to take a risk, too. I couldn’t replace the jersey with that amount, but it’d come close. Add the possible humiliation, something Dane’s pride would have a hard time swallowing, and it’d seem like a more even bet, at least.