* * * *
Three nights in a row at the same bar wasn’t unusual for Corey.
It was the third night in a row that Corey had been at Stompin’ Grounds this week. Good week, one home game and between practice and partying . . . what was there besides partying and hockey?
What was unusual was that woman. She had been here all three nights, watching him.
He was used to women watching him. Usually they got a little tipsy and then approached him, . Which involved a lot of giggling and looking at her tipsy friends and then saying, “Do you play for the Flames?” And they were usually closer to being girls than actual women.
This was a woman. A fully dressed one. And she just sipped her drink alone at a table for an hour or so, watching him. Then she would disappear.
The oddest thing about the whole situation was that she looked oddly familiar to him. Could he have slept with her at some point and now she had tracked him down like a crazed fan? Or worse, he’d gotten her pregnant.
Before he could twist his thoughts any further, he grabbed his beer at the neck and stalked over to where she was sitting.
She looked surprised when she found herself face to face with him. He leaned in close and talked over the music. “I know you from somewhere.”
“That doesn’t seem like it’s your usual line.”
Well, she recovered quickly from her surprise. He made a face. “I wouldn’t use a line if I had to. Help me out here. You’ve been sitting here for three nights watching me and I know I know you from somewhere.”
She shook her head. “All your girls make it too easy on you. And I’ve never been known to do that.”
“Can I buy you a drink then while I sit here and try to figure it out?”
She seemed to consider it for a moment. “Sure.”
Corey started to stand up and then let himself drop into the chair again. “Wait, can we play this like twenty questions?” He glanced behind him. “Except without the limit on questions.”
“Sure, but I’ll only answer yes or no.”
“We’ll start when we get back. You’re drinking a rum and coke.”
“Exactly. Just hold the rum.”
All right. So he wasn’t going to get her drunk and find out her name. “You promise you won’t disappear on me while I’m gone.”
“I’ll stay right here.” She held his gaze. He wasn’t going to get her into bed either.
He shook his head. He promised Mandy he would slow down a little and not make it his default objective when he met a woman. He couldn’t help it he’d told her: he liked shiny, pretty things and he liked sex. It made her laugh anyway, but she’d still extracted the promise.
He got a glass of soda and himself another beer. Then he returned to his mystery woman’s table. “There you are ma’am,” he said, setting down her glass in front of her.
“Thank you. Charming as usual.”
“That’s me.” He flashed his media smile at her.
“The amended twenty questions,” she prompted.
“I thought about it already.” He waved for her relax. She raised an eyebrow. He felt a jolt in his memory. He’d seen That Look before. His mind grasped for the where but he couldn’t find it.
He steepled his fingers in front of him and made a show of taking a breath. “Did you grow up in Calgary?”
“Did I meet you in Calgary?”
“Where did you move from?”
She shook her head. He twisted his mouth disapprovingly. He couldn’t ask that it wasn’t a yes or no question.
“Did you grow up in Alberta?” He was in Edmonton often enough.
“Did you grow up in Canada?”
Somewhere east. “Did I meet you in the last three years?” Since he’d been playing in Calgary.
He thought backwards. His nearly two Boston. “In the last five?”
“You tracked me down from before my professional playing days? Was I better in bed then?”
“Yes and I don’t know.” Because she hadn’t slept with him in the last 5 years or since she’d never slept with him?
“Did we go to university together?”
He wrinkled his nose. “When I played in Providence?”
He lost his patience and downed half his beer. And then it slowly dawned on him. The look. The familiarity. And why she wasn’t going to make it easy on him.
“Nope, not going there,” he said. He pushed himself away from the table and walked into the crowd, heading for the door.
He had left his past behind him. No matter how good the family had been to him, they were not his family. His own family didn’t want him, how could strangers?
He shook his head and considered grabbing another beer and downing it before he found a cab to take him home. Deciding it would slow him down and might give Her a chance to catch up, he passed the bar and took the first exit, with a wave at the bouncer, Marc.
He tried to stay in the shadows outside as he used his cellphone to text his team mate, Peter Drummon. He was about it hit send when he felt a tap on his shoulder. “Hey man, I was about to text …” he trailed off as his eyes registered that it wasn’t Peter after all. “I don’t really want to talk to you.”
“Yeah, well that’s too bad. I’m not here to stir up anything. I just- well no one had heard from you in a lot of years. And I moved to Calgary a few months ago and you live here. It seemed- I dunno. I just thought I’d see how you are.” She gave him a weak smile.
He met her gaze. He held it for long moments and she didn’t waver. She spoke again before he could. “This is why I didn’t approach you. I didn’t think you want to see me again.”
He didn’t. He didn’t want to go back there. To where he grew up. There were too many bad memories.
He let his shoulders drop; knowing he was dropping his guard. And letting all those old feelings coming running back.
When he was sixteen until he left for University he was in a constant state of lust for Mackenzie Charron. She was so beautiful and so sure of herself. Despite all the options that the Ellliot family gave him, all he had to be grateful for, he always felt like he was a loser. Neither of his parents bothered sticking around to raise him. Strangers gave him more than his parents ever did.
And there was the sad truth of his life. He’d never be worthy of touching someone like Mac.
She was shoving a piece of paper at him. He reached for it without thinking. Her skin was so fucking soft it shocked him. Except for one drunken kiss in the Elliot’s hallway, he’d never touched her before.
He jerked back his hand and looked at the card.
Elliot? Her last name was Charron. “You married Mitch? Did he ask you to find me?”
The horrified look on her face told him all he needed to know. He pushed past her.
She grabbed his shoulder. “Corey, wait. He didn’t ask me to contact you. I did marry him. We divorced two years ago. He still lives back home.” She waved in what she thought was an eastern direction.
He felt his control start to slip when he heard someone calling his name. He looked around and saw Doug and Peter coming out the front door of the club. He wished he had gotten in the first cab that came by instead of giving it to a couple of very drunk girls.
Doug slapped him on the back. “Pete thought he saw you heading out alone.”
“Needed some fresh air,” Corey said.
“Here we thought we interrupted your getaway with a beautiful woman.”
More like a getaway from the beautiful woman. Mac was still beautiful. She hadn’t changed much in the past years. She still dressed like a million bucks. Her smile still made you feel like the only guy in the world.
And he still had a hard-on for her. He would still follow her to the ends of the world if she crooked her finger.
He shook his head at his teammates. “No, it was just feeling crowded tonight.”
Doug gave him an odd look. He wasn’t buying Corey’s story. He turned to Mac. “So, he wasn’t trying to take you home. But the look between you is intense. How do you know our fair Corey?”
Mac looked at him. Corey spoke before she could. “Mac knew me in high school. She spotted me tonight and thought she’d say hi.” He looked at Mac pointedly. Now you can go.
“We were beginning to think Corey didn’t have a childhood,” Doug said. “That the scouts from Boston just found him under a rock.”
That was his line. That he didn’t have parents, they just found him under a rock.
“So, tell us some stories,” Pete was begging.
Corey gave Mac a plaintive look now. It worked because she said, “I’d love to share guys but I have get going. I really just wanted to say hi to Corey.” She gave him a half smile. “You have my card. Give me a call and we’ll have coffee or something.” She leaned up to him and kissed his cheek.
That sealed it. He had a raging hard on and nothing was going to ease it. Aside from Mac’s lips wrapped around him. He held back a groan at the thought. Before he could say anything she was gone. “I need another drink,” Corey said. And another and another and another.