Read Off Her Game Online

Authors: Suzan Butler

Tags: #cuban hero, #hockey player, #contemporary romance

Off Her Game

BOOK: Off Her Game
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Off Her Game
 
A Texas Highlander Story

 

Suzan Butler

OFF HER GAME

A Soaring Phoenix Press Publication, March 2013

 

Soaring Phoenix Press

P.O. Box 164083

Fort Worth, TX 76161

E-ISBN: 978-1-938927-03-4

Print ISBN: 978-1-938927-04-1

 

OFF HER GAME © 2013 Suzan Butler

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. They are productions of the authors' imagination and used fictitiously.

 

Cover art by
Soaring Phoenix Media
.

All images are used with permission from the creator.

Dedication

To my two little monsters, who will not read this book until they are at least thirty.

Acknowledgments

Of course, I have to thank all of Team Awesome for their relentless support of me in my writing endeavors. But for this book specifically, I have to thank the amazing and talented Lea Griffith for her awesome and helpful comments. I could not have finished this book without her.

Any errors found in this story are mine alone.

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

About the Author

Chapter One

Darren shoved his hands in his pants’ pockets, even though it was hot as sin outside the courthouse. Texas summers were not forgiving when you wore a damn suit. Rolled up in his front jacket pocket, the divorce papers from the court burned his chest. Maybe this was hell, and the damn Texas sun was just apropos.

He was
divorced
.

He was torn in half, part of him missing the marriage that had failed, and the other rejoicing that the adulterous bitch who had the affair with the fucking landscaper was finally out of his life.

Thank God for prenups…

“D!” His best friend’s voice cut through the sounds of traffic, slicing into his thoughts. With a glance up to the sky in silent prayer, Darren slowed his pace and faced the courthouse again.

The older red-bricked building stood on a hill, a century old, proudly mocking him, because his marriage hadn’t lasted as long as that courthouse would.

Cody Baker and his wife Josephina caught up to him and the three of them three stared at each other in silence. Joey’s hand rested on her stomach, a slight grimace on her face. Darren felt bad for dragging her out of the house. She hadn’t been feeling good lately, getting sick enough to lose her lunch a few times.

“You all right, Darren?” Joey was the first to speak, as usual. Her hair reflected the sunshine, leaving the echo of a halo around the crown of her head.

“That’s a stupid question, Joey.” Darren snorted. “I just got a divorce.”

Joey sighed and touched her fingers to his wrist. He didn’t move to take her hand as he normally would have. The touch of a woman, even the friendly one of his best friend’s wife, just didn’t appeal at the moment. “You’ve been separated for months. This was just a technicality.”

He glanced back at the courthouse. He’d know the big-boobed figure coming out the doorway anywhere. His now ex-wife didn’t see them, and he was glad. She had that bastard she was fucking attached to her arm. What was it about the landscaper? What did that man have that he didn’t?

“Dude, wanna go work out? We can suit up and hit the ice.”

“Nah.” Skating didn’t have any appeal either. In the courthouse, he’d wanted to punch things, but now, he was just…a black hole that just couldn’t feel anymore.

“Hit the gym? They have punching bags.” Cody suggested.

Darren shook his head. “I think I’m just going to buy some beer and go home.”

“Darren, maybe it’s not a good idea if you’re alone tonight.” Joey frowned, concern furrowing the light eyebrows.

While he loved Cody and Joey, seeing them was making him nauseous. How many double dates had he dragged Angela on so he could hang out with Cody? How many times had Angela rolled her eyes at him and Cody while Joey laughed? How had he not seen the signs? Cody was a lucky bastard. He had a wife who was actually committed to him, who actually wanted him.

“Darren?” Cody snapped his fingers in front of Darren’s face. He blinked and focused back on reality. Both of them had concerned expressions now. “You okay to drive? You want us to take you home?”

Darren blinked. Drive home? That hotel he was staying in was not home. It never would be. His home was gone, obliterated by someone who was supposed to love him.

“No.” He turned on his heels and started walking away. Beer. He needed beer.

“Promise me you’re not gonna drink tonight!” Joey called after him.

Darren stopped, turned slowly and surveyed his friends. He was being a jerk. He knew that. He flashed a hopefully disarming grin. “I’m not gonna sit at home and get drunk, okay?”

“You promise?”

He nodded. “I promise. I’ll call you guys later. Enjoy your Friday!”

He left them then, and headed to his car. He’d parked a couple blocks away to avoid the metered parking. It was good, though. He needed the walk to cool off. His whole body raged with hot anger. His hand lifted, touched the papers in his front inside pocket. Cooling off wasn’t quite what he needed. The rage over Angela’s behavior had passed. He just wanted to be numb now.

***

Valerie pulled up to the Teen Outreach Center. Looking at the place now, the building didn’t look right. The parking lot, normally so full on the weekdays, was completely empty. Where were all the people? The clients, the patients, anyone?

The silence turned her stomach, her footsteps echoing through the tiled hallway. The receptionist was there, but didn’t even glance her way as she made her way behind the private areas of the center. The door clanged shut loudly behind her, trapping her.

Of course she could have turned and left, but her feet propelled her forward. She didn’t like being there. It was Friday, so there should have been people there. The board was scheduled to visit today, but even if they voted to shut the center down, there should have been some activity. The fact there wasn’t worried her.

She knocked on her boss’s door, and heard a muffled “Come in!” She inched the door open, drawing it out like she could keep whatever bad news there was at bay longer.

Emery Donaldson sat behind his desk, his hair badly mussed by his fingers dragging through it. He was a high-strung fellow, and how he’d been put into the position of facility director was beyond Val. It wasn’t hard to see that right in that moment, the man was stressed.

“Hey, Emery.” She flashed an uneasy grin in his direction.

Emery froze, his stressed expression darkening. Usually, her smiles disarmed him, but this morning, he looked miserable. “Valerie. Hey.” He shuffled things on his desk and pointed to a chair. “Sit.”

Frowning, Val sat. Leaning back against the seat, she looked at Emery. He was all nerves. His eyes darted everywhere. He bit his lip. A fresh sheen of sweat glistened on his face from the light of the window.

“What's wrong, Emery?”

He let out a long breath that lasted several beats. “The board was here earlier.”

“Oh. I thought I would be here when they got here.” Val said, her body drumming with tension. “It didn't go well?”

“No. Not at all.” He rustled papers on his desk and threw them on a stack.

“What does that mean?”

Emery wasn’t exactly a calm individual, but she’d never seen him like this. Not even when his wife left him. The board being here and Emery’s behavior meant one thing. They’d made a decision.

“Are they shutting us down?” She clenched her fists tightly, her fingernails digging into her palm.

“No,” he stretched the word out for a second or two, matching the rhythmic beat of his fan.

“That's great news then.” Val said, but Emery wasn’t smiling. The ice in her blood dropped a few degrees. Then it came to her. The only reason Emery would be so upset was if he was the one they’d axed. He was the facility’s director. He was a full-time employee, unlike the counselors that were contracted. And he cost more money than they did.

“Are you alright?” It was bad enough that he’d lost his wife to some pro hockey player a while back. He’d never recovered from that. But to lose his job now? Poor guy.

“I’m fine,” he said. “So, we need to talk.”

“I’m going to miss working for you.”

“Wait,” he looked at her, surprise coloring his face. “You know?”

“I guessed.”

“And you’re not upset?”

“Well, of course, I am. But it’s not like you wanted this to happen.”

“Well, no,” he agreed. “I’m so glad you’re being understanding about this, Val. I was worried that you’d be upset about being laid off.”

“Wait, what?” Val stiffened in her chair without realizing she had. “Me? You're firing me?”

“Laying off.”

“Semantics.” Anger bubbled in her chest, her throat constricted. She cleared it with a cough. “You’re firing me?”

He frowned. “I thought… didn’t you just say you knew?”

“I thought it was you! I thought they’d laid you off… God… and I’d felt sorry for you!” When Emery stared at her in stunned silence, she leaned forward, the fury inside her intense and concentrated. “How can you do this? You know what it’s like here already. How many more are gone so you can keep your precious job?”

“That’s not how—”

“How fucking many, Emery?”

“Five counselors, three maintenance personal, two receptionists.”

“Five. That leaves two to manage over sixty girls.” She said it more to herself, figuring out the flow of the center in her mind. Her head popped up. “That’s not enough.”

“No.”

“Emery, they’re trying to shut us down.” Not us, them, she corrected herself.

He put up his hands, classic surrender position. Fitting for Emery. “It’s out of my hands. The board doesn’t want to renew the contracted employees, not with the backlash they’ll get from the Texas government for supposedly supporting teen pregnancy.”

“Screw the Texas government. What about private grants? Fundraisers?”

He shook his head. “The people with money in Texas flow with the conservatives. It’s all political.”

“Damn it,” Val said. “I’m the only one some of these girls will talk to.”

“I know.”

“I’m here on time, every day.”

“I know.”

“I have the highest performance rating of all the counselors, including your full-times.”

“Damn it, I know. You do great work. Know that this isn't what I want. You’re my best.”

“Yeah?” Her voice seemed high pitched even to her. Her stomach was busy tying her intestines in knots. “Not really feeling like it's what I want either.” Tears were there, pooling in her eyes, but she held her breath a moment, soothing her injured ego. Crying wasn’t going to happen.

“I'm sorry, Val.” Emery whispered into the silence of the office. “I didn’t want this. You're… I had to let all the contracted employees go.”

“The girls. Do they know?”

“Not yet. The decision was only this morning.”

How would her girls react if she wasn't around anymore? They didn’t confide in rest of the staff. They trusted her. And she was leaving them.

“I'm sorry.”

She clenched her jaw tightly, feeling her teeth grind together. She believed him. The center couldn’t lose one counselor, let alone five.

BOOK: Off Her Game
8.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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