Marek (Cold Fury Hockey Series)

By: Sawyer Bennett

Chapter 1


Marek


“You need to get your fucking head on straight and put your house in order.”

Yeah, that’s what Reed had told me on the phone yesterday, and my response?

“Get off my fucking back.”

No way in hell I’ll ever admit to his face he’s right, but it doesn’t mean he’s wrong. I know I’ve got to quit ignoring the truth of my life right now and figure out some way to accept that today it’s vastly different than I’d ever imagined it would be.

Goddamn Gracen. Keeping such a secret from me.

A daughter.

Lilly.

I’m scared as fuck.

I sit in the gloom of my garage, the ticking of my car engine slow and steady as opposed to the beat of my heart, which is erratic. I’ve been gone for three days at the beach with Holt, staying drunk most of the time and ignoring the mess of my life back here in Raleigh. I’d still be there too if Reed hadn’t called me yesterday and torn me a new asshole over the way I’d been ignoring Gracen and Lilly.

Gracen is the easy excuse. I’m so angry at her I can barely stand to be in the same room. Our conversations have been brief and stilted. I left her a credit card so she could buy whatever she needs, and outside of some basic instructions regarding the house alarm and how to work the TV, we haven’t spoken much. Lilly doesn’t bear my anger, but I know she’s feeling it. She hardly looks at me when we’re in the same room, however brief it may be.

 I’d even reasoned to myself that leaving for a few days would give Lilly some respite from the tension within the house. Of course, I know her mother has got to be stressed to the max, and that’s probably affecting Lilly, but I choose not to let that be my problem.

I’d done what I set out to do. I stopped Gracen from making a fool of herself by marrying Owen Waller, and now I’m saddled with an ex-girlfriend I’d left behind long ago and a new daughter I had not expected nor frankly wanted.

My life is fucked.

With a sigh I get out of my car and pocket my keys. My feet are heavy as I walk up the three short steps that lead into the mudroom. My spine is locked tight in stressful anticipation of any confrontation I might have with Gracen, and acid churns in my gut over the thought of having to engage with a child who looks just like me but I have nothing in common with.

Christ, I know nothing about kids.

I mean, nothing.

I open the door quietly and slip inside. The mudroom leads into a short hall. Turn right and I’m in the laundry room. Turn left and I’m in the kitchen that opens into the living area. The sound of the TV hits my ears first and I go even more on edge. That means one or both of the females now in my life are just a few short feet away, which means conversation is inevitable.

 It’s going on 9 P.M. and I have no clue if Lilly is even still awake. No idea what time toddlers go to bed. All I know is that the late nights I’d been coming home this past week were late enough that Lilly had been sleeping and thus I didn’t have to deal with her.

Didn’t mean I wasn’t curious about her, because I am. It just means I don’t know how to fucking deal with this.

My kitchen lights are off, but the glow of the TV in the living room illuminates the area enough so I can navigate around the counter. I hope to slip unnoticed past the couch, but Gracen’s head pops up. I can see by the heaviness of her eyelids she’d been sleeping.

She stands up and rubs her face before looking at me. “We need to talk.”

“I’m tired,” I say, and start to head into the formal room, the other side of which is the master suite. I’d put Gracen and Lilly upstairs in the guest bedrooms.

“No, now,” she says firmly as she walks around the couch toward me. She turns on a floor lamp and blinks from the light.

“Tomorrow,” I mutter as I walk away.

“We’re leaving tomorrow,” Gracen says in an unyielding tone. “So if you want to hear what I have to say, you better stop and listen. Tomorrow will be too late.”

That stops me dead in my tracks. I turn slowly to face her. “You’re not leaving.”

“Yeah, I am,” she says angrily. “Lilly and I are virtual prisoners here. You demanded we come here, threatening to take her away if I didn’t, and then you ignore us for a week. We don’t know anyone here, and I don’t even know whether to look for a job or not. But more importantly, and why I’m willing to risk your wrath if we leave, is because Lilly is confused as hell as to who you are and what your purpose in her life is.”

 That right there tempers the brewing storm of anger that had been starting to rise. “What have you told her about me?”

“Nothing,” she says tiredly as she shoves her hands into the pockets of her jeans. Gracen always did fill out a pair of tight jeans nicely, and that hasn’t changed over the years. She’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and fuck me if I don’t believe part of it is because she had my child.

Goddamn that’s confusing.

“She only thinks you’re a friend of her mommy’s,” she adds quietly, and that cuts me deep. Why I thought Gracen would fill her in on the fact Lilly has a daddy who was kept secret from her is beyond me, but I really expected her to just deal with the emotional fallout, I guess. I mean, I sure as shit don’t know what to say to a toddler I barely know.