After her ex trashes her reputation in front of the media and it quickly goes viral, Nicole vows she'll never get involved with another hockey player. Too bad her job with the Minneapolis Caribou puts her in contact with sexy hockey players on a daily basis, including the newly traded center, Logan Heller.
Logan's pretty sure Nicole is the perfect woman for him and he's determined to have her--in and out of bed. Nicole is equally determined to never date another hockey player. But Logan has a one-man advantage...he knows what she really wants.
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Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc.
April 29, 2012
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Excerpt from One Man Advantage by Kelly Jamieson
"I guess she's working her way through the team one by one. It'd be faster just to have a gang bang." Cody Burrell, defenseman for the Minneapolis Caribou, smirked at the ESPN reporter who'd just asked him how he felt about his ex-girlfriend dating one of his teammates.
His ex-girlfriend being her.
Nicole Lambert stared at the television, her mouth hanging open. It felt as if the world slowed to a stop for a moment.
He did not just say that on national television! About her!
Maybe she'd heard that wrong. The newscast had gone back to the studio with the announcer moving along with highlights from the hockey game the night before. Which the Caribou had lost. Worse than lost. They'd been handed their asses by the Chicago Wolves with a final score of nine to one.
He had said it. Nicole blinked as heat slid from her chest up her throat and into her face, and her stomach twisted into painful knots.
Tabarnac de c�lisse! B�tard!
She pressed her hands to her hot cheeks and sat back into her couch, tuning out the rest of the sportscast. Her stomach heaved. Was she going to actually throw up?
A gang bang! Just because she'd dated a few hockey players! A shaft of pain stabbed through her heart. That hurt. That really hurt. The corners of her eyes stung and she blinked rapidly.
Then red-hot anger ripped through her. Merde, he was an asshole! Another string of profanities against the church ran through her mind.
Her cell phone buzzed. She lifted her head and stared at it blankly where it sat on the coffee table in front of her. It buzzed again and she reached for it. Taylor Berezowsky, her best friend. Had she just seen that? Nicole pressed the talk button. "Hi."
"Nicole. Hi. Are you watching...did you see...?"
Nicole groaned and fell back into the cushions. "I saw it. What the fuck, Taylor? Tell me I misheard that."
"You didn't." Taylor's voice held an edge of grimness. "Jesus, Nic. Fedor is freaking out here. He's on the phone with Scott right now." Taylor's husband played for the Caribou too, and Scott was their coach.
"Sacrament," Nicole breathed.
"I know things are bad when you're swearing in French."
"My god, Taylor. How could he say something like that? In front of the entire freakin' country! The world!"
"I know, I know. Fedor says you should be calling your lawyer and suing his ass."
"Mon dieu." She reverted again to French, covering her eyes with her free hand. "Sue him?"
Her miniature schnauzer lying on the carpet lifted her black-and-silver head and gave a little whine, obviously picking up on Nicole's agitation. Absently, Nicole reached a hand down to rub Silvia's head.
"Yes," Taylor said. "What is it when you insult someone like that? Defamation? Slander? I don't know, but he can't say things like that. What the hell did you do to the guy, Nic? He's got a hate-on for you."
"All I did was break up with him."
"I know that." Nicole could picture her friend's eye roll. "Did you cut his balls off while you were doing it?"
Nicole choked on a laugh. "Maybe figuratively. He wasn't impressed when I dumped him."
"Because he's full of himself. God's gift to hockey and women." She snorted.
Nicole's land line rang. Great. Just effing great. She glanced at the call display on the cordless phone. She didn't recognize the number. "Hold on." She punched the button on the cordless phone. "Hello?"
"It's Jack Chambers."
She frowned. Jack Chambers... "From the Daily Mail?" she asked. She knew him, he was a sports reporter for the newspaper.
"Yes. I don't know if you saw tonight's Sports Rap on ESPN, but I was hoping to get your reaction to Cody Burrell's comments about..."
Her mouth dropped open again and her condo started a slow spin around her. "You have got to be kidding me!"
"No, I just..."
She clicked the phone off and stared at it as if it was covered with dog poop. She flung it down with a clatter, startling Silvia, whose head lifted again. Nicole spoke into her cell phone. "Holy Virgin Mary," she said to Taylor. "That was a newspaper reporter. Oh my god, Taylor."
"I heard. Oh, Nic. This sucks!"
"I know!" She rubbed her forehead. Her phone rang again. "Not answering," she said through clenched teeth. Silvia stood, stretched, then leaped onto the couch and stared at her.
"No, don't answer it! Want me to come over?"
"No. That's okay." She shook her head, her mind buzzing. "I can't believe he said that." She sat back and let Silvia climb onto her lap, automatically wrapping one arm around her warm, furry body.
"He's a douchebag," Taylor said. "I told you that before. Why'd you ever go out with him?"
"I'm asking myself that right now too," she muttered. Actually she knew why she'd gone out with him. He had that edge, that dangerous vibe she thought meant he might be into the same kinds of things she liked. The reality was, he wasn't edgy, he was just a jerk. "But c�lisse, I sure as hell know why I broke up with him. Douchebag is right." Silvia licked her chin and Nicole squeezed her tighter.
"When did you go out with Tyler? I did not know about this."
She sighed. "Saturday night. I wonder if he saw that."
"Well, if he didn't, he's probably going to hear about it. If reporters are already calling you about it, it's not going to go away. Hold on, Fedor's off the phone."
Nicole could hear her best friend's husband talking in the background with his deep, Russian-accented voice.
"Scott's furious," Taylor reported.
Nicole sighed. "They always defend him," she said. "No matter what stupid thing he says or does."
"Huh. I know. But this is really bad."
"I'm nobody compared to him," Nicole said. "I'm just a lowly Communications and Publications Assistant for the team. He's a superstar NHL player."
"He's a superstar tool. This is the height of douchbaggery."
Nicole choked on a laugh. "True. But I mean, the team is hardly going to stand up for me over him."
Taylor was silent. "Nic, I know you don't make a big deal out of it, but everyone knows who your dad is. And your brother. You're not just a lowly assistant. But whatevs, no matter who you are, you don't have to take that crap from him."
"Oh hon. I don't want to make this into a bigger thing than it is. If I just ignore it, maybe it'll go away."
Famous last words. Nicole's phones didn't stop ringing, buzzing and pinging with calls and text messages from friends and reporters for the rest of the evening. And the story ran over and over on the sports channels and on the late news too. By bed time, Nicole wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. Reporters had dragged out her entire dating history, which yes, had included a few hockey players. She clutched a cushion and chewed on her bottom lip as she watched the television, mesmerized as if it was some kind of horrific train wreck that she couldn't look away from.
Nobody came right out and said it, but they might as well have called her a hockey whore. Probably the only thing stopping them was the fact that her father, Jacques Lambert, was a hockey legend, one of the best hockey players of all time and now a co-owner of the new Montreal Saints.
Her phone buzzed once more and she checked the call display. She sighed and clicked the talk button yet again. "Bonjour, Papa."
"Nicole. Qu'est-ce que tu as fait maintenant?"
What have you done now? How was she supposed to answer that? "I didn't do anything, Papa," she said in French, which was easier for him.
"Then why is the entire world talking about you and embarrassing us?"
Sure. This was her fault. Of course it was. And he was embarrassed. "Papa. I didn't start it. It was Cody."
She heard his muttered imprecation. She knew what he thought about Cody Burrell. "I've been trying to get hold of Jeff," he said. The Commissioner of the National Hockey League. Fanfuckingtastic.
"Papaaaaa." She closed her eyes. "Don't make this bigger than it has to be. Please stay out of this."
"I think it's too late for that," he said. "Christ, Nicole, did you have get tangled up with someone like that?" He gave a long-suffering sigh. "You should have gone into modeling like your mother wanted."
"Models date hockey players," she pointed out. "As you should know." Her mother had been a super successful model when she'd met her dad. And her dad also ignored the fact that Nicole wasn't exactly model material, much to her mother's disappointment and which she had reminded Nicole of many times.
"That's different," he snapped. "And you're missing my point."
"What is your point, Papa?"
"My point is, you don't belong in the hockey world. You're a girl. It can only lead to trouble."
She pursed her lips. After hearing that her whole life, you wouldn't think it would hurt so much, but it still did. The corners of her eyes stung, and when she dragged her fingertips across them, they came away damp. "I just want this to go away," she whispered. "But please, Papa, don't get involved. That'll just make it worse."
"Here, talk to your mother," he said, handing the phone over.
She switched to English to speak to her mother, who wasn't any more sympathetic than her father had been. "What did you do to him to make him say such things?" she asked.
"Mom. He's an asshole."
She ended the call before she burst into tears. Her phone immediately buzzed again. With a groan, she saw her brother's name and reluctantly answered, this time in English. "Hey, Julien."
"Nic. What the fuck?"
"I know, I know."
"Are you okay?"
She closed her eyes. The one question her parents hadn't asked. "Not really."
"That fucking shithead," Julien snarled. "Just wait until the game on Thursday." Julien played for the British Columbia Rockies, who were scheduled to take on the Caribou later this week.
"No! Don't do anything." Tabarnac, she did not want to see her big brother start some kind of brawl on the ice with Cody. "He's so not worth it. Please don't." Much as she was fantasizing about cutting Cody Burrell's balls off, this time literally, she didn't want a fight, didn't want to see her brother getting hurt.
"Oh, he's worth pounding, all right," Julien snapped. "Hell, I wish I was there." His voice softened. "What do you need from me, Nic? What can I do?"
"Nothing." Her throat tightened. "Thanks, though. I'll just have to deal with this." They talked for a few more minutes, and once again she tossed the phone down. Then she picked it up again and powered it off. She did not need to talk to anyone else about this tonight.
Humiliating. That was the word. She heaved herself off her couch, her body incredibly weary, her limbs stiff and heavy. How was she supposed to go to work tomorrow and face everyone there? Merde.
"Time for bed," she said to Silvia, who immediately jumped off the couch and trotted into the bedroom, then sat on the bed and watched Nicole change into her pajamas. Nicole scooped up her little dog and cuddled her against herself, pressing her face into Silvia's soft fur. "Oh Silvia." She sighed. "I love you." No matter how bad things were, Silvia loved her too.
Nicole's sleep wasn't exactly restful, her mind whirling. She cycled between burning humiliation and spitting rage, and by morning, she'd worried herself into a tightly wound knot of panic, convinced she was going to be summarily fired the moment she set foot into the offices of the Minneapolis Caribou where she worked.
When she turned her phone on, she found missed calls, and when she walked out of her townhouse condo, she met reporters hanging around outside. She paused, staring at them. Media attention wasn't entirely unfamiliar to her, being the daughter of a hockey legend and having dated a few hockey players, but that was never attention for her. Now she worked in Communications with the Caribou, she dealt with the media all the time. She knew those guys, for god's sake. She'd even thought some of them were friends. She eyed them with hostility.
"Guys," she said. "What are you doing here?"
"C'mon, Nicole, talk to us. What did you think about Cody's comments last night?"
For several long, painful seconds she considered turning around and bolting back into the safety of her condo. Then she slid her sunglasses onto her nose, lifted her chin and strode toward her car. "Va te faire foutre," she muttered under her breath, resolutely ignoring them and their requests for comments.
This was nuts.
She gripped her steering wheel for a moment and swallowed. If she saw Cody today she was going to... She gritted her teeth. Slap him. Punch him. Kick him. Yeah, right. Impotent fury bubbled inside her, a feeling of hot pressure. As she left the parking lot, she stepped on the gas a little too heavily and tossed some gravel out from under her tires in a satisfying spray at the reporters. Then she bit her lip and glanced in her rearview mirror to make sure she hadn't actually hit anyone.
More reporters were hanging around outside the Halstead Center, the arena that was home to the Caribou and their offices. For fuck's sake! Nicole set her jaw, once again ignoring them as she entered the building. She shot a grateful smile at Albert, the security guy who let her in and kept the media out. For now.
Her stomach bottomed out as she once again anticipated how pleased management was going to be about this development and what they were going to do about it.
Behind the reception desk, she dropped her purse into a bottom drawer and sank onto her chair to boot up her computer. She was usually one of the first ones at the office every morning, but voices drifted from offices down the hall. Someone was already there and she could just guess what they were talking about. Sure enough, moments later her boss, Breck Travers, Director of Communications for the team, walked into the reception area, followed by Scott Kitchell, the team's coach, General Manager Matt Hay and Joe Thorley, one of the owners of the team.
"Ah, Nicole, you're here," Breck said.
"Good morning." She set her hands on her lap and waited for the shit to hit the fan.
"We were just on a conference call with Jeff in New York," Breck said. "I tried to get hold of you late last night, but you weren't answering."
She pressed her lips together.
"Guess I don't blame you," Breck said, his dark eyes somber. "You okay, Nic?"
His concern made her throat constrict. She nodded. "I'm okay."
"This is shitty," Joe said.
"I gather you know what's going on," Scott added.
She nodded. "Kind of hard not to," she muttered, twisting her fingers together.
"So," Joe said. "The league is suspending Cody."
She blinked. Her gaze went from Joe to Scott to Breck. He nodded. "Yup."
"Really? Suspending him?"
"Jeff's pissed right off," Scott said. He rubbed his face.
Her father must have called him. She closed her eyes, a wave of hot embarrassment sweeping over her.
"If he didn't suspend him, we would have," Joe added. "What Cody said was completely inappropriate. Totally disrespectful. That's just not acceptable. We won't tolerate that."
"Like we don't have enough problems," Scott said, now rubbing between his eyebrows.
The team had been playing like crap since the season started a little over a month ago.
"I know," Matt said. "Christ. I couldn't decide if I wanted to manage a hockey team or join the circus. Now I'm doing both."
His humor cut through the tension as everyone laughed.
"We're just working out the communications strategy," Breck said. "We'll meet with the media this morning. Cody will apologize."
"He will," he said grimly.
"Great," she said. "Then hopefully the media will leave me alone."
"Are they hounding you?"
"They were outside my condo this morning and they're hanging around outside here too."
"Yeah, I saw them this morning." Breck nodded. "We'll deal with them." He paused. "Nicole, we think you should take some time off."
"What?" She gazed back at him. "Take time off?"
"Yeah." He grimaced. "You know. Just to let this die down."
"Are you firing me?" she asked slowly.
"No! Of course not. We just thought, for your own sake..."
"Things are really busy right now."
"Yeah. Things are always busy, though."
Damn. They wanted her out of the way and she couldn't blame them. She was letting down everyone. Her heart clenched. "So you're paying for my trip to Hawaii?" They all burst out laughing and she gave a crooked smile. "I guess that's a no."
"You know," Matt said. "If we could finish that trade deal and announce it, that would take a lot of the attention off this."
Trade? They were making a trade? "Are you trading Cody?" she asked eagerly.
They all frowned. "Uh. No," Scott said. He rolled his eyes and she knew he wanted to say more. "We need more offensive power. This is all hush hush," he added and she nodded. She knew better than to repeat anything she heard, whether to players, the media or her friends. Sometimes that was hard, since her best friend happened to be married to one of the players.
"Go home," Joe said. "Take a week. This'll all have died down by next week."
It was tempting. The thought of facing the players made her insides burn. Not only Cody, but Tyler, whom she'd gone out with once and probably was never going to again. And the rest of the players. She'd only dated one other player on the team--the other guys she'd had relationships with played for other teams--but she counted some of those guys as friends. Facing any of them was going to be embarrassing after what Cody'd said. And with a sinking feeling, she realized it was going to be embarrassing facing anyone who'd seen that little comment by Cody, and that was going to be a lot of people. Sure, she could take off and go into hiding. But she was going to have to face people some time.
"I think they're suspending him for his own protection," Scott said wryly. "His own teammates are pissed at him. Your brother plays here this week. Some of the other guys you've..." His voice trailed off.
Nicole kept her chin lifted and met his eyes. She knew he'd been about to mention the other guys she'd dated who might come to her defense and try to retaliate against Cody on the ice the next time they played the Caribou. The organization had to be annoyed at being put in this position and it was all because of her and her dating history. "I'm sorry," she said, her heart heavy.
"Don't apologize," Breck said. "Cody's the one who crossed the line."
Their support of her meant a lot to her, but even so, she knew she'd brought this on herself. This was hurting not only her, but also the team and the whole league. And probably her father, who apparently cared more about image than he did about her. Merde.
* * * * *
"I feel like the team slut."
That evening, she and Taylor lounged in the great room of Taylor and Fedor's gorgeous Calhoun Parkway home.
"You're not a slut," Taylor said. "More wine?"
Taylor plucked her glass from her hand and glided over to the bar where a wine bottle sat in a bucket. The pot lights above the bar illuminated her long blonde hair into gleaming waves of gold down her back. "Are you going to take them up on their offer of some time off?"
"I don't think I have a choice." She accepted the very large, very full glass of Sauvignon Blanc from her friend with a grimace. "I hate running away, but I think they want to get rid of me."
"Oh surely not." Taylor picked up her own glass as she sat gracefully on the red leather couch and tucked her long legs under her.
"Can you blame them?" Nicole rubbed one eyebrow. "I'm causing them a whole lot of grief."
"You didn't do it! It was that asshole Cody! Stop blaming yourself."
Nicole looked down at her wine, a feeling of pressure behind her cheekbones. She sucked briefly on her bottom lip. "I think..." She stopped, her throat closing up, and sipped her wine.
"I think I have to quit my job."
"Whaaat!" Taylor swung her legs to the floor and sat up straight. "Don't be ridiculous!"
Nicole met her eyes. "I'm serious. This is just an embarrassment to the team. They want me to go away for a week, but they're probably too nice to say they want me gone for good."
Taylor snorted. "Or too afraid of a suit for wrongful dismissal. That's crazy, Nic. They love you."
"And you love your job!"
She did. So, so much. She hadn't been allowed to go as far in hockey as her brother had. No surprise there, since her brother pooped gold and peed champagne in their parents' eyes. But she'd loved the sport with all her heart. She'd refused to try to follow in her mother's footsteps and go into modeling, like Dad had wanted, instead going to college and getting a degree in Communications. She'd had her eye on jobs in the NHL and had landed this job right out of college. It had meant moving to Minneapolis from Montreal, where she'd gone to university, but as long as she was involved with hockey somehow, it was all good.
"I have some experience now," she said, her voice a little choked. "I'm sure I could get a job somewhere else."
Sure she could. Somewhere else in Minneapolis, big companies like maybe Xcel Energy or Target. Or she could leave Minneapolis and try for a job with a different NHL team. She didn't know of any openings, but she could put out some feelers. But maybe no one else would hire her after this. She sighed.
"What about Tyler?" Taylor tipped her head to one side. "I didn't know you went out with him."
Nicole grimaced. That was what had started this whole shit storm. "I like him. But not enough that I'm going to see him again and put him through hell." She closed her eyes and leaned her head back. "I never should have gone out with him, dammit. I had no idea Cody was going to be such a jerk about it."
"Again, this is not your fault, hon."
"Yes, it is."
"It is not."
"I feel horrible. This has gone viral on all the internet sites, it's all over TV. I feel like I've let everyone down." Nicole sipped her wine. "The one thing I'm not going to do is go out with any more hockey players. Ever."
"Oh, Nic. Take the week off," Taylor said. "Let things die down. Then you can think about this with a clearer head."
Nicole let out a breath. "Okay. I'm going to take that vacation." She smiled at her friend. "Have I told you I love you lately?"
"I know you do."
"And I swear to the blessed Virgin Mary, I'll never get involved with another hockey player."