Anatomy of a Player (Taking Shots #2)(9)

by Cindi Madsen

It’s why the harsh bun, without even a hint of fringe, didn’t work well for me, either. Suddenly I was all forehead. Blech. Instead of making a hair appointment, I was letting it go for a while, the darker blond roots taking over, my highlights dull from months of washing and styling.

“You still look hot,” Lyla said, apparently reading my mind. “Just business secretary hot.”

“Why, Lyla Wilder, are you coming on to me? What would Beck think?”

Pink flared in her cheeks, but she laughed. “He’d be into it. He once told me all guys are pervs, you just have to find the nicer pervs. And as nice as my perv is, this conversation would make his head explode.”

I laughed, too. Lyla had come a long way when it came to accepting her sex appeal and gaining confidence, and I was glad we could joke so easily about it. Of course, now I was the one suffering from lack of confidence. I sighed and picked at a thread on my pants. “I feel like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality, but in reverse. Maybe I should practice my speech for when this whole thing’s over.” I adopted my best pageant voice. “That would be harsher treatment for hockey players who break the rules, Stan… And world peace.”

Two creases formed between Lyla’s eyebrows as she looked at me, her confusion clear.

“It was a twist on a quote from the movie—she says what society needs is harsher treatment for criminals.” When Lyla’s expression remained blank, I shook my head. “Never mind.”

Funny enough, my mama had me watch it so I’d see how fun beauty pageants were. While I’d made some friends, between school and pageant preparations and the travel involved, there hadn’t been a lot of time to bond. After a while, my main emotion was resentment at Mama for pointing out every one of my flaws and pushing so hard. I’d just about gotten over it when she left Daddy and me.

Okay, I definitely don’t want to be thinking about this. But seriously, she’d freak if she saw my make-under. The woman wore lacy nightgowns to bed, no matter how cold. When I’d bought flannel pajama pants, she’d balked, and the “shapeless” hoodie I paired them with offended her even more.

At least Daddy was proud—I’d almost held off on telling him about my job in case I messed it up, but in the end, it’d spilled out, and I think he was as excited as I was.

The music filling the arena grew louder, and hockey players burst onto the ice to warm up.

As they did, I decided to pull up my research notes on the iPad mini I’d worked all summer for. No one handed me a brand new, all-the-bells-and-whistles iPad, the way the college did for athletes when they showed up for their first day of class.

That wasn’t even close to their biggest perk, either. They got to register for classes early, and according to the Delta Cost Project, universities in NCAA Division I sports spent three to six times as much on educating athletes as regular students.

Did those athletes then use their education? For most of them, that’d be a big no. They continued on with playing sports, and the ones who tried to enter the career field often hadn’t retained enough of the information from their classes to be successful in the area they’d supposedly studied.

I opened up the app I was using to keep my articles organized. It didn’t write notes as well as it claimed, stylus or not, so I had my notebook for that.

I’d found a site with college athletics revenues and expenses, and I’d been blown away by the jaw-dropping amounts. The better the teams, the more money the athletics department earned for the school, so of course they were going to do pretty much whatever it took to recruit top players and then keep those players happy.

“How are you going to write about the game if you’re buried in your notes the entire time?” Lyla asked.

I peered onto the ice as they started announcing the players. I switched my stack of notes around, shuffling my notebook and the paper with the players’ positions and stats to the top.

Admittedly, seeing the guys all decked out in their gear made my pulse accelerate a bit. As they skated after the puck, fighting each other for control, I even leaned forward in my seat to watch all that testosterone play out. Number Nineteen tore down the ice, and I couldn’t help but admire the way he moved. I bet that he was of the rugged sexiness variety, even with the helmet off.

I ran my finger down my list until I landed on nineteen, and slid it right to his name. Hudson Decker. Left winger—whatever that meant. I’d planned on learning the positions better, but I’d already crammed in so many rules about the game, and with my other research about NCAA rules and school spending, my brain simply stopped taking in new hockey-related information for a bit.

Something tickled my mind, but I couldn’t figure out what. It’s not like I knew the guy, and I’d never heard the term “winger” in my life. Unless I’d read it after my brain had given up on the study session I’d forced it through. It was probably just my hormones, and I should shut them right down.

But there was no harm in gleaning a bit of info, right? After all, it was in my job description.

“The left wing dude,” I said, my gaze still on him as I tilted my head closer to Lyla. “What’s he like?”

He swung back his stick and shot. The crowd erupted when it sailed into the goal. A red light flashed and his teammates barreled into him to celebrate.

Once the crowd settled back down, Lyla turned to me. “Hudson Decker? I don’t really know him, but he’s kind of the bad boy of the team. Drinks a lot, spends a lot of time in the penalty box. But he, Beck, and Kowalski…” She glanced down at her lap as if she were looking for something, then her head shot back up and she snapped her fingers. “Dane—that’s Kowalski’s first name. I think Hudson is the only one who uses it, though. Anyway, the three of them read each other well and they have tons of assists. They’re who score most of the points.”

Between the name and the hockey terms I got a little lost.

“Oh, and Hudson’s high scoring doesn’t apply to just hockey, if you know what I mean. From what I’ve seen, he’s the king of the hit it and quit it. I’ve never seen him with the same girl twice.”

My gut sank. Of course that was the guy I was checking out. “Damn lack of playdar,” I muttered, and Lyla squeezed my hand. During our girls’ night, I’d lamented the fact that I was missing it.