Home Ice

By: Catherine Gayle

If I had to spend too much time in this man’s presence, I was due for some serious trouble.

“So you played before you coached?” I asked, trying to bring everything internal back under control.

“Nearly two decades in the National Hockey League. I grew up playing hockey in Stockholm. My grandparents made a lot of sacrifices so I could play, especially once my sister came into the picture. She needed so much of my parents’ time and their resources, it was the only way I would have been able to play.”

I didn’t know what social services were like in Sweden, but I knew all too well what they were like here. Dan and I put every penny we could into Sophie’s trust. She’d be able to get a job someday, but it wouldn’t be the sort of job that would support her. At least she would have her sisters once the two of us were gone, but the more we could have already in place for her, the better.

But, as tempting as it was to talk to him more about his sister, I ended up putting my foot in my mouth again.

“How many teeth did you lose?”

“A dozen?” He gave me an odd look, as if he thought I could confirm or deny his response. “No, maybe it was thirteen.”

“That’s a lot of teeth to lose.”

“Yes, but it was a small price to pay to be able to build the career I had. Actually, the one I have,” he corrected himself.

“I suppose you must love hockey. It’s nice to be able to make a career out of doing something you love.”

“You sound like someone who has experience doing exactly that.”

I arched a brow. “Do I?”

“Like recognizes like,” he replied, a knowing tone coloring his words.

And he was right. I did love my work. Massage therapy was physically exhausting work but as rewarding as anything I’d ever done outside of being a mother. “I suppose you’re right,” I finally conceded after he continued to eye me with a hint of a smirk.

“So, tell me, Paige,” he said. “Is it all right if I call you Paige?”

“Yes.” At the moment, I was fine with him calling me anything, as long as he would keep talking. He had a smooth, rich voice, and the hint of his Swedish accent was just enough to present some spice, like chocolate with a hint of cinnamon.

“Paige. I like that name. You can call me Matti if you want.”

“Matti? Is that what everyone calls you?”

“Not everyone,” he said. “Just my sister. But you can call me that if it fits for you.”

“Oh.” The word came out sounding soft and dreamy. Sitting here and talking with him made me feel soft and dreamy. But he didn’t look like a Matti to me. He seemed much too dignified for that. Too hot. “I think I’ll stick with Mattias, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind.” The corners of his eyes crinkled. It didn’t make him look old, just insanely handsome. “Tell me what it is you love to do, Paige.”

I didn’t even pause to think. Before I could stop myself, I said, “To look at you.” I could have shot myself for blurting that out, but there was no taking it back.

And there was no deluding myself into thinking he might have missed it, either. Not with the way he chuckled. “I love to look at you, too,” Mattias said. “I think I’m enjoying it a lot more than I should.”

I should have kept my mouth shut. I should have turned to check on my girls, or looked to see what was happening down on the ice, or done any number of things other than what I did next. But, just like the teenager in a thirty-nine-year-old’s body I’d apparently become, I did the exact opposite of what I should do; I let my hormones win.

“Why shouldn’t you enjoy looking?” I asked, sounding much saucier than I felt. Inside, everything was roiling and jumbling and taut, like Izzy’s bowstring during archery practice.

Mattias angled his head, taking me in more fully. Not to mention appreciatively. “Well, if you put it that way.”

Not only had I put it that way but I didn’t want to take it back, as long as he was going to continue looking at me that way.

It had been too damn long since anyone had flirted with me. I wasn’t fooling myself. This wasn’t going to last any longer than just today, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy myself for a little while.

It wouldn’t mean the world was ending.

No harm would come to my girls just because I decided to let myself feel like a woman for a few hours.

Maybe a little flirtation was exactly what the doctor ordered. After today, life could go back to normal. But for now? A sexy-as-sin man was looking at me like there was nothing else he would rather be doing, nowhere else he would rather be, and I was determined to let myself enjoy it.

I COULDN’T SEEM to help myself. I’d initially been drawn to Sophie, but now that she was happily latched on to 501 for the foreseeable future, her mother was drawing all my focus.

She was blinking at me. I couldn’t decide if she was wishing she hadn’t returned my flirtation or surprised that she had. Either way, I didn’t mind. I liked the effect I seemed to be having on Paige. In fact, I might like it a bit too much. Wedding ring or no, she probably didn’t have time to get involved with someone, let alone a man as married to his work as me. It had always been my biggest flaw. I couldn’t keep track of how many times Linnea had told me to Loosen up, Matti. I worked so hard in order to be sure she never went without anything and everything she needed, of course, but Linnea never saw that. She only knew she rarely got to see me other than on a TV screen and for a few weeks in the summer, which wasn’t nearly enough.

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