Anatomy of a Player (Taking Shots #2)(12)


by Cindi Madsen

He hesitated, then he stretched out his hand. “It’s a bet,” he said as we shook on it.

That zing of energy I’d been missing lately pinged through me, awakening my competitive side, even more than the hockey game had. My interaction with the reporter might’ve been brief, but she’d made everything else disappear for a little while. I had a feeling that breaking through her icy exterior would prove both challenging and fun, which was exactly what I needed to push all the problems plaguing me to the back of my mind.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of that blond bun. A quick glance revealed the girl was looking my way. I flashed her a big smile that usually got me my way and she rolled her eyes.

My smile stretched wider as she promptly turned and marched out of the locker room.

Just like that, I was back.

Chapter Nine

Whitney

What had Lyla said about winning them over and then infiltrating?

I fell into the driver’s seat of my Mini Cooper, locked the door behind me, and slumped back against the worn fabric.

I was pretty sure I hadn’t won Hudson Decker over. One day on the job and I was already making a horrible mess of this undercover thing. I’d nearly swallowed my tongue when I’d realized the dude I’d accidentally lusted after on the ice was the same cocky guy who’d hit on me at the party the other night.

He’d flashed me a canary-eating grin that said he knew all my secrets, and I’d been sure my cover was totally blown. Despite the frigid AC blasting the locker room—which, hello, another extravagant expense in October—I’d broken out in sweat, testing the limits of my deodorant as my mind spun, looking for a way to explain away my appearance at that stupid party.

At first I’d thought he was just playing it cool, waiting to spring it on me—after all, how could you forget a girl who told you that the amount of alcohol it’d take for her to sleep with you would kill her?

Then again, judging by the way he’d been slurring and swaying that night, he’d had about that much to drink.

It was dark, too. I glanced down at my dull duds and frowned at the way the shirt puckered out. Maybe my reporter disguise was better than I thought. Plus, a sportswriter could go to a party, even one heavily populated with hockey players.

Still, it was insulting he didn’t even remember me. Just proved he was one of those guys who went through girl after girl, like they were disposable napkins, good for one use only. Ugh.

While the lights of the party had been dim, the locker room lights had been turned up nice and bright, accentuating his deep brown, mischief-filled eyes, perfectly scruffy chin and jawline, and the kind of lips that could land a playdar-lacking girl like me neck-deep in trouble.

I’d tried to glance away before I got caught up in his good looks, but my gaze had snagged on the dark swirls of ink that peeked out from under his hockey pads and dipped and curved their way down and around his ripped arms.

That was about the moment I’d heard T Swift singing, “You look like my next mistake.”

The “sweetheart” had snapped me out of it, and since he obviously wasn’t taking my serious-journalist look seriously enough, I’d hit him extra hard, to the point that I now worried I’d gone way too far.

He’ll probably never talk to me again.

I pushed up the non-prescription frames that I couldn’t get used to, telling myself that it didn’t matter because there were plenty of other hockey players on the team, and I had more pressing matters to worry about at the moment.

Namely, how I was going to force five pages of rambling hockey nonsense into a decent sports article for the paper. Which of course meant figuring out how to write a sports article in general. Man, when I jumped into the deep end, I really jumped in, no life vest or knowledge on how to swim.

I’m sure every good reporter’s felt this way, I told myself, because while I was drowning, I might as well heap on a good dose of denial.

When my phone chirped, I jumped.

Lyla: How’d it go?

Me: I told Hudson Decker that he had no grasp of the English language, and then it was hard to get anything out of the players around him.

I wished I could see Lyla’s expression—even though it’d probably only confirm that I’d blown it—but the dots floating across my phone’s screen made it clear she wasn’t sure how to respond. Finally a blue bubble appeared.

Lyla: That’s one way to do it.

Me: Do what? Ruin my career before it starts?

Lyla: I’m sure it’s not that bad. Hudson needs a dose of humility now and then. His ego’s big enough that he’ll be fine. Plus, now the guys know not to hit on you, and they’ll treat you with more respect. It’ll be fine, you’ll see.

I certainly hoped so. Her reassurances at least made my muscles loosen up enough that driving home no longer seemed like an impossible challenge.

As I maneuvered the streets of Boston, my brain decided to betray me and drift to the way one corner of Hudson’s mouth had twisted up after I’d landed that first blow, halfway between bewilderment and a smirk. The guy obviously thought he was all that and a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and whether or not he ever talked to me again, I couldn’t wait to put him and the rest of his teammates in their place.

When I walked into the newspaper office Monday afternoon, Lindsay did a double take. “You look different.”

I figured that for now there was too big a risk of running into a hockey player on campus to drop the look, so until the story was written, I was stuck with it. “Yeah, well, I want to be taken seriously. Plus my roommate informed me I looked like a puck bunny in my usual clothes.”

Lindsay laughed, but there was something slightly off about it. Not quite fake, but uncomfortable. “It’s good to hear that you’re taking it so seriously. I was afraid that I’d send you in and you’d end up being one of those dumb blondes who fall for hockey players’ charms and muscles.”

“Nope, not me,” I said, although inside I was thinking, Jeez, why don’t you tell me what you really think. In a way, I envied her for just putting it out there, no holding back like I tended to do. “I’m not even dating right now. My entire focus is on my classes and this story.”

“Good. I’d hate to put all this effort into training you, only to have you end up being the token pretty girl on SportsCenter.”