Authors: Clare James
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Sports, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
Public Lives Series, Part 2
Copyright © 2014 Clare James
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, distributed, stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without express permission of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes.
This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, or any events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Cover design by
Berto Designs. Cover image used under license from shutterstock.com. Editing by Sara Biren, SP Critique and Editing Services.
Table of Contents
A hockey term used to describe someone who is completely and entirely useless.
In the NHL, players, coaches, and commentators talked endlessly about
It was something extremely difficult to teach, you really either had it or you didn’t.
A player with hockey sense m
ade the correct play nine times out of ten. They were a step ahead of the play, rarely caught out of position or off guard. In other words, born to play hockey.
I had that.
But once hockey was gone, I lost it all.
“Dude, you have no choice,” my friend and teammate, Nate Denny, said last spring after I emerged from another weekend bender. “It’s time to face this.”
“Face what?” I asked, still in denial. Since the initial diagnosis, I refused to
about it, let alone
The only people who knew about my problem were Nate, my agent, Stan, and the doctors, of course. Nate took the docs side on pretty much everything, but Stan wasn’t all that concerned. In fact, he thought we could use my diagnosis to our advantage.
Nate didn’t let up until I finally checked into an inpatient facility. That’s really when everything changed. The fog began to lift and I felt my head clearing for the first time since I could remember. The clarity was something I couldn’t explain; the control and calm I experienced was something I knew I desperately needed. Unfortunately, that meant some big changes in the months ahead – necessary changes, if I wanted to have any quality of life.
I called it the
And when it became apparent that retiring from hockey was part of the
– at least until I got ahold of my life – Nate was the only person in my corner.
When I woke up this time, he was the only person there again. Slumped over in the chair, snoring.
I was happy about that. It gave me some time to get orientated after my latest stumble. As I looked around the hospital room, a familiar feeling came rushing back – a feeling I thought I experienced for the last time.
I was wrong.
The docs told me I most likely would have episodes at times – when I was stressed or faced certain triggers – but I didn’t believe them. I was too tough, too disciplined.
I followed all the rules to get better, for fuck’s sake. Yet I still wound up here.
It was a kick to the goddamn nuts.
My last moments with Casey began to seeping in to my newly found consciousness. That smell of hers – spicy and inviting – hit me first. I could detect her scent in the hospital room even with the potent disinfectant filling the air.
That meant she was there, at least at some point. A mild comfort.
The memory of her striking face was the next blow. The look in those large brown doe eyes that last night, when she was bound for me, open and waiting for my next move. Her pupils large; her lips parted; her bare chest, rising and falling rapidly in sweet anticipation.
And then, the disturbing image I couldn’t shake – the way her expression of wanton desire turned to panic.
It was terrifying.
I tried to recall the rest. What did I do? What did I say? What did she see? Was she okay?
All I could think was that I had to get to her. Soon.
I had no idea how long I’d been out. That was the trouble, it could’ve been hours or days. My body told me it had been a while. As I tried to get up, I was overwhelmed with an uncomfortable sensation of exhaustion mixed with regret. Like when I was young and getting trashed every night, waking up to a stranger in my bed and wondering what the fuck happened. It was like that. But worse. Far worse, because there was nothing (or no one) to blame. No alcohol, or wild party, or swarms of girls begging me to do filthy things to them. This one was all on me. My unstable, unreliable, crazy, fucked-up, destined-to-be-miserable self.
Falling back into bed, I slowed my breathing. With the raging war going on in my chest, I could feel my blood pressure rising, which would surely start setting off these monitors I was chained to.
I needed to calm the hell down, but part of me was livid that Casey hadn’t stayed. That she ran at the first sign of trouble.
Then again, who in their right mind would sign up for this shit?
I punched the mattress, but it hardly moved. My hands were no longer the lethal weapons they once were. My mind was fried, unable to focus or think clearly. It’d been months since I felt this worthless.
Rendered incapable of doing anything, I let the exhaustion pull me back under. And I went back to dreaming of her.
Two Months Later
On the set of Good Morning U.S.A.
And that brings us to the
of the hour, Casey Scott. We know her as the reporter who broke the story, and as Finn’s weak link, but I think I speak for everyone when I say, we are dying to hear from you, Casey.
Thanks for having me, Kiki. But I wouldn’t say I was the person who broke the story. I had it all wrong —
You’ve got that right.
I know; that’s what I just said.
Just want to make sure you’re not still delusional.
Hey, you’ve had your say. I think it’s time I’ve had mine.
Oh boy. Guys, I don’t want to be forced to call security. Are you sure you’re going to be okay sitting next to each other?
We’ll be fine.
Speak for yourself.
I hadn’t seen Finn for a few weeks, since everything was set in motion. It was the most brutal torture to sit this close without any physical contact. I missed his intoxicating smell; his electric touch; his deep laugh; and the way his face warmed whenever he looked at me.
Though it seemed like forever since he looked at me that way.
These days the looks were full of scorn and disgust. I tried to blame him for the situation. I told myself it was his fault. If he had just been honest. If he had trusted me enough to tell the truth.
But all that was bullshit. I betrayed him, and I lost him. There was nobody to blame but myself.
I didn’t want to do this interview, because I didn’t care what happened to me at this point. Our agents, however, insisted. They both agreed it was the best way to put this whole thing to bed. I was outnumbered. Not that there was much skin off my back, it was Finn who I worried about. He was the one with everything on the line.
Personally, I didn’t want to rehash it all in front of the American public. I didn’t want to remember that night. I can’t imagine he did either. When he went dark on me, it was the worst night of my life.
The weeks that followed weren’t much better.
A player who defends his teammates against members of the other team.
Nate said he got the call around midnight. I had to trust him on that. With these particular details, he learned to pay attention because he knew I’d want to know about everything that happened during the blackout. I had badgered him enough over the years that he finally understood the drill.
All I remembered about the night was that one minute I’m having the most incredible moment with a woman I was crazy about. And the next? I’m out of my mind. Literally.
“She called me right as it was happening,” Nate told me once I was able to have a conversation. “Said she wasn’t sure what was wrong with you, but she rattled off all of your medical stats like a pro.”
Though I was miserable being back at this place, it could’ve been worse. Regions Hospital was the best place to be after an episode. It was well-known, not only for its specialists in the field, but for its experience in dealing with public figures as well. I was able to hide out in a special corridor that gave me the privacy I needed for recovery.
My limbs were heavy and I was famished, but I felt alert. That meant the medication was working. I was leveling out again.
“Casey thought you were stable enough to wait until she made a few calls. She wanted some back-up before bringing in an ambulance and causing a scene,” Nate continued. “She was pretty damn incredible, man.”
If he only knew the half of it.
“How’d she know to call
?” I asked, cringing. Thinking about Casey in my house dealing with me in that condition on her own made me physically ill.
“She found my number in your phone and apparently she remembered you telling her how incredible I was. She said you were always blathering on about me, like I was your idol or something.”
“Fuck you,” I snapped. Leave it to my only friend to razz me at a time like this.
“And he’s back.” Nate laughed, his posture transitioning from rigid to relaxed. Guilt washed over me, knowing that he’d been worried too. I hated putting him through this shit.
“She was good, Finn. Really good.”
Leave it to Casey not to panic.
“Does she know?” I asked.
“Not yet,” he said, looking down. The clear sign he didn’t want to tell me something. “I told her you had a condition.”
“I didn’t know what to say, but I knew it wasn’t my place to tell her.”
“Okay. Then why do you look like that – what’s the problem?”
“Promise you won’t go ape shit?” he asked.
“Just tell me, Nate.”
“Ava showed up?”
“What? Why?” Just the sound of her name brought instant dread.
“She’s still listed as your emergency contact on one of the forms.”
“I changed all that months ago.”
“Well, apparently you missed one.”
“So?” I asked, encouraging him on.
“So.” Nate blew out a long, labored breath. “Casey was here when Ms. Hell-on-Long-Legs came striding in, and let’s just say it didn’t go well.”
“So Casey was here?” This is what I wanted to be talking about – my present, not my past.
“She was,” Nate said.
“Has she been back to see me?” I asked with that deep sinking feeling settling in my gut again.
I waited for him to speak, but I knew Casey, and I knew the answer.
“Nope,” Nate confirmed. “She hasn’t.”
“Okay,” I said, going into recovery mode. We made it through the rescue, now it was time to salvage what was left. And Casey was my only priority.